Monday, May 5, 2008

Brideshead Revisited -- Again

Since my husband's death two years ago, I've lived a relatively sequestered life. I haven't subscribed to a newspaper, watched television, or perused news magazines except in doctors' waiting rooms. But I do haunt the Catholic blogsphere, and sooner or later everything I really want to know about turns up there.

According to Amy Welborn at Charlotte Was Both, the trailer for the new Brideshead Revisited movie is out. You can read her opinion of it in her post, Teddy Bears Optional. Her criticism, aside from poor casting, is that the movie appears to be a heated power struggle between Charles Ryder and Lady Marchmain. And that's not what the book is about. As one of her commenters, Fr. Steve, puts it

. . . at the heart of Waugh’s book was Charles Ryder’s relationship with God, in regards to which his relationships with the Marchmains were expressions of his resistance to God, and ultimate reconciliation with God. The richness of Waugh’s insights is that they are powerful insights into the theological as well as the interpersonal. Charles Ryder is being remade in a crucible of both transcendent and immanent realities. One might say that the most interesting character in Waugh’s novel is actually God, whose presence permeates every scene, and yet never speaks a word directly, prefering to use secondary causes to effect Charles conversion.
My own criticism of the trailer is that it strongly implies that Sebastian is homosexually in love with Charles and that Lady Marchmain is forcing Julia to marry Rex -- neither of which is true in novel. And if that's what the movie is about, then it's just not the story that Waugh wrote.

The problem is, if you gut its religious aspect, Brideshead the novel is not unlike the chapel at Brideshead after it's been decommissioned. (The description is Cordelia's.)
[The priest] took out the altar stone and put it in his bag; then he burned the wads of wool with the holy oil on them and threw the ash outside; he emptied the holy water stoup and blew out the lamp in the sanctuary and left the tabernacle open and empty, as though from now on it was always to be Good Friday. I suppose none of this makes any sense to you, Charles, poor agnostic. I stayed there till he was gone, and then, suddenly, there wasn't any chapel there any more, just an oddly decorated room.
I suspect that this would be the key difficulty with with any dramatization of Brideshead Revisited: if you suppress the essential heart of Bridehead, it will, like the chapel sans the Eucharist, be merely "an oddly decorated room." And the decorations are indeed odd.

However, I suppose it's not fair to premataurely judge even this movie by its trailer since, through the judicious selection of music and clips, trailers can be crafted to appeal to any demographic without reflecting their movie's actual content -- as is ably and amusingly demonstrated by Scary Mary, a recut trailer of Disney's Mary Poppins.


rhinemouse said...


In theory I don't have a problem with making Sebatian in love with Charles, because it is an arguable interpretation of the book and it needn't mess with the logic of the story.

But. But but but. Making it into a torrid love triangle between Julia, Charles, and Sebatian? With the strong implication that Lady Marchmain's scheming is centered around money/status and not making her chlidren into good little Catholics?

I mean, I guess it's theoretically possible that one could inflict such changes on the storyline and still bring it to the same conclusion . . . but it *really* doesn't look good.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...


Darwin said...

Man. That preview makes it look like the movie will be TERRIBLE.

Sheesh. If they wanted to spice it up a bit why not just add more special effects like exploding socks?

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Anthony said...

Well I saw it last night. It wasn't that great, and you pretty much get what the trailer presents.

The musical score, however, I was quite satisfied with.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Thanks for the report which confirms my intention not to bother seeing it.

By the way, here's a good review of what's wrong with the new Brideshead movie and what's right with the novel.