Brideshead Revisited (2008)

Starring: Matthew Goode, Emma Thompson, Ben Whishaw, Hayley Attwell, Anna Madeley, Patrick Malahide, Ed Stoppard

Directed by: Julian Jarrold

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Ben Whishaw as Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited

The past is a different country; they do things differently there.

Evelyn Waugh didn't write that, but he very well could have done. For the lazy, hazy days of Brideshead Revisited are not so much another country as another world, a fragile, glittering planet on which one's long, idle afternoons are whiled away punting down the river, sipping champagne and nibbling strawberries, and decadent evenings are spent dining elegantly, wreathed in elegant coils of cigarette smoke, dressed up to the nines.

Such is the rose-tinted life of effete, aristocratic Oxford scholar Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw), and it couldn't provide more of a contrast to the dour, repressed, gloomy home left behind by middle class first year Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode). Befriended by Sebastian, Charles falls head over heels in love with his self-indulgent lifestyle, his beautiful, mysterious sister and, above all, his magnificent home, Brideshead.

But is Charles delivered up to Brideshead like a lamb to the slaughter, easy prey for Sebastian's fearsome, fiercely religious mother, Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson), or a wolf in sheep's clothing, whose cool, quiet, certain presence will eventually destabilise the entire family? Looking back on his inextricable entanglement with the Flytes, when he returns to the requisitioned house during the Second World War, Charles himself finds he no longer knows.

But while the film may span a decade, there's nothing rushed about Brideshead Revisited. Instead it takes its time to unfold the story gradually and delicately, giving the excellent cast room to breathe, so we don't miss any of the nuances in the complex relationships weaved.

Emma Thompson as Lady Marchmain and Matthew Goode as Charles Ryder, with Castle Howard as Brideshead

Particular kudos has to go to Ben Whishaw as poor, skinny, spoilt, spineless, sweet Sebastian, and the ever-wonderful Emma Thompson as the ruthless family matriarch, a woman whose Catholic faith is so iron-willed it would seem God defers to her on most matters.

But the real star of the film is Brideshead itself, aka Castle Howard in North Yorkshire, which rightfully shines in its role as 'the most beautiful house… ever seen'. Austere yet sumptuous, grand yet intimate, the house sums up all the contradictions of the family that inhabit it, providing a fitting metaphor for the echoing loneliness felt by each of the Flytes behind their smart façades.

Beautiful, evocative and elegant, Brideshead Revisited is the perfect period drama: classy and poised, yet moving and absorbing. Whether or not you're a devotee of the 1981 TV series, this silver screen incarnation is definitely worth a (re)visit.

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