'Brideshead': A Shorter Visit To A Grand Old Place Purists, fear not: The new film of the Evelyn Waugh novel is visually sumptuous and largely stays true to its source. And Bob Mondello says this two-hour take on the classic tale provides new insights on character.
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'Brideshead': A Shorter Visit To A Grand Old Place

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'Brideshead': A Shorter Visit To A Grand Old Place



'Brideshead': A Shorter Visit To A Grand Old Place

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The novel "Brideshead Revisited" was first published in 1945. And then in the 1980s, it was made into an 11-part miniseries. Well, now, opening today, a new adaptation of "Brideshead Revisited" less than two hours long.

Bob Mondello has this review.

BOB MONDELLO: Charles Ryder is at Oxford between the wars because his father thinks it's a good way for him to get ahead in the world. Lord Sebastian Flyte is there for entertainment. And before long, he's entertaining not just himself, but Charles, too — taking him out for wine and strawberries on a perfect romantic afternoon, or to visit his stately home. And reluctantly, when he can no longer avoid it, to have dinner with his beautiful sister, Julia, and their scarily composed mother, Lady Marchmain.

(Soundbite of movie "Brideshead Revisited")

Ms. EMMA THOMPSON (Actress): (As Lady Marchmain) Welcome to Brideshead, Mr. Ryder. I've been hearing all about you. I do hope you didn't let Sebastian call you away in too much of a rush.

Mr. MATTHEW GOODE (Actor): (As Charles Ryder) Sorry, I didn't quite have time to pack the right things.

Ms. THOMPSON: (As Lady Marchmain) Sebastian must lend you some clothes while you're here. And what form do your pleasures take, Mr. Ryder?

Mr. GOODE: (As Charles Ryder) Sorry. Pleasures?

Ms. THOMPSON: (As Lady Marchmain) Your hobbies. What do you do to relax?

Mr. BEN WHISHAW (Actor): (As Sebastian Flyte) He drinks.

Ms. THOMPSON: (As Lady Marchmain) Drinking is not a hobby, Sebastian.

Mr. WHISHAW: (As Sebastian Flyte) Charles is a painter, Mommy.

Ms. THOMPSON: (As Lady Marchmain) Ah, charming. We must get you to paint something for us. Would you do that, Mr. Ryder?

Mr. GOODE: (As Charles Ryder) I'd be delighted.

MONDELLO: This is a world of dinner jackets and evening gowns, casual jaunts to Venice and Morocco, elegance, style, money, and perhaps, too heady a mix of drink, religion and intrigue.

(Soundbite of movie "Brideshead Revisited")

Ms. HAYLEY ATWELL (Actress): (As Julia Flyte) Don't you think he ought to know what he's getting into?

Mr. WHISHAW: (As Sebastian Flyte) Leave Charles out of it.

Mr. GOODE: (As Charles Ryder) Tell me. God.

Ms. ATWELL: (As Julia Flyte) Sebastian and I are a couple of heathens.

Mr. WHISHAW: (As Sebastian Flyte) I'm not a heathen, I'm a sinner. As for you, you're not a heathen at all. Not really.

MONDELLO: Not at all, but that won't become clear for years and years. Evelyn Waugh's novel burned the dalliances and religious conflicts of this classy crowd into the consciousness of one generation of romantics, and the miniseries did the same for another. So why revisit "Brideshead Revisited"? Surely not just to annoy purists — as much fun as that can be.

Waugh fundamentalists have been up in arms for months now over rumors that God, homosexuality and Sebastian's teddy bear were being left on the cutting room floor this time — untrue rumors, as it happens. And there have been screams that they're tampering with a masterpiece — what could anyone be thinking?

Well, I've just re-watched the masterpiece, and I know one thing they had to be thinking - it's beautifully acted, but it was made with 16-millimeter cameras in an age of much smaller TV screens. By today's standards, it looks really grainy — which is no way to view the title mansion, played again in the film by Castle Howard.

And then there's the matter of pacing. Is it sacrilege to note that a good three of those 11 TV hours are shots of things like trains chugging, Bentleys arriving, and dandies strolling languidly on manicured lawns? Lovely stuff, but eminently cuttable, along with that fox hunt, if you want to get to the religious arguments that were Waugh's reason for pinning Brideshead.

Director Julian Jarrold and his screenwriters have also found ways to streamline motivations. The most controversial will be two kisses — one involving Sebastian, the other witnessed by him — that are in neither the miniseries nor the book. They allow the filmmakers to cut to the chase - I won't say how exactly - but rest assured that when Lady Marchmain gets perplexed in mid-film, you won't be.

(Soundbite of movie "Brideshead Revisited")

Ms. THOMPSON: (As Lady Marchmain) I want a word with you about Sebastian. I'm concerned about him.

Mr. GOODE: (As Charles Ryder) Why? Should I be?

Ms. THOMPSON: (As Lady Marchmain) He's drinking too much. You must've noticed after I sent you to look after him. I don't exactly understand why he seemed particularly upset, ever since he came back from Venice, he's been unreachable. Did something happen there?

Mr. GOODE: (As Charles Ryder) No.

Ms. THOMPSON: (As Lady Marchmain) You all had a good time?

Mr. GOODE: (As Charles Ryder) Yes.

Ms. THOMPSON: (As Lady Marchmain) I wonder what it could've been.

MONDELLO: There are things that miniseries true believers will miss - Laurence Olivier's Lord Marchmain had a deathbed speech on TV that let the aging Shakespearean prove he could still play Henry V lying down. The new film has Michael Gambon, whose career doesn't demand that sort of showcase just yet, so he doesn't get it. You don't particularly sense the passage of two decades in the film, and there's far less of flamboyantly gay Anthony Blanche, or Antoine, as he liked to be called.

Still, if much longer novels can be condensed into effective movies, there's no reason "Brideshead" shouldn't be, nor is there a good reason to avoid revisiting a tale that's been told well once. I've seen three dozen "Hamlets" and continue to be surprised at the new wrinkles directors find in that story.

"Brideshead Revisited" revisited isn't classic, but it does offer a new slant on the characters' motives and a clearer view of the stately home that gives the film its title. Whether that's enough to prompt a revisit, I'll leave to fans.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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