Brideshead Revisited (2008)
What is most dispiriting about the new version of Brideshead Revisited is how it resembles more a banal summary of the original 1981 miniseries than a new take on Waugh’s novel. There are of course discrepancies between the two versions, but certainly Julian Jarrold (Becoming Jane) and his screenwriters could have found a new way to approach the story. Obviously the temporal compression of the movie goes against one of its main themes, the passage of time: events occur far too quickly, the characters are not given time to process them. Jarrold’s film is more of a curio, a postcard version with beautiful images, with all the superficiality such a description can bear.
Ben Whishaw as Sebastian Flyte is a caricature, Michael Gambon and Emma Thompson as his parents, are wasted. Haley Atwell (The Duchess) as Julia is the best thing in the movie, as pointed out by A. O. Scott. The story’s climax, Lord Marchmain’s last rites (in the series, played by Laurence Olivier) harkens back to GK Chesterton (and the Father Brown short stories the Flytes copiously read):
I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.
Lord Marchmain, who had renounced God, reedems himself in these final moments, affirming the power of religion among the Flytes, and explains, in a devastating way, why Charles and Julia cannot be together. In Jarrold’s film, the religion barrier seems more like a whim carried over from Lady Marchmain. Charles’ overwhelming guilt towards Sebastian culminates in the final scene in the chapel – which doesn’t even make sense in the movie.