Saturday, September 04, 2010

Saturday at the Movies #18 - Closeup: Brideshead Revisited

This discussion refers to the 1980 television miniseries adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel, and probably my favorite movie of all time, ever. Which is, if you know me, saying a lot. I had expectations when first I met Brideshead several years back. There it was on the library DVD shelf, and I figured it was about time. I'd expected that to some degree, this would be Brokeback: UK (never mind that Brideshead was first and I have not yet seen Brokeback Mountain) I knew that this had an England between the wars setting (which is an Anna-magnet) amongst the upper crust (more Anna-magnetry) and there was angst a-plenty (you get the idea.)Into my player it went.

I wasn't sure where things were going in the beginning, as we plunge right into the world of a WWII British military barracks and the narration from Jeremy Irons' Charles, about knowing the exact moment he became old and feeling like a man who's fallen out of love with his wife. Okay, that got my interest, and when Charles, the commanding officer, is told he must move his men to a secret location, things get rolling. There's a bit with a hapless young man with a for-the-best attitude. Put a sticky note on that. The sentiment, if not the fact, will come in handy later. The men move, there's a mustard gas drill and it all ends with dumping Charles at the one place in the world that can completely cut him to the quick. Brideshead Manor, the home of everything he ever hoped or loved, now fallen into ruin and where he is to bed down with his troops. Oh yes, he knows it well. This scene is one of the best punches to the gut I have ever seen in film, and may well be the winner in that category.

The years fall away as Charles remembers his first glimpse of Brideshead, two decades before, when he was a young college student, brought along for holiday by the glittering youngest son of the Marchmains, Sebastian Flyte, played by Anthony Andrews. Sebastian is a golden boy, whimsical yet jaded, carrying about his beloved teddy bear, Aloysius. It's that first glimpse, when the boys turn round a curve, and Brideshead rises in all its golden splendor. Charles, and I, fell in love right then.

Sebastian introduces Charles to the great house, and the heart of it, his dear nanny, but wants to be far away when his sister Julia arrives. When Charles meets her and the rest of the family, Sebastian frets, Charles will love them and not him anymore. I have to concede Sebastian may have had a point there, as life is not particularly kind to either of them. All too soon, life intervenes, and the two men react to it in very different ways. While Sebastian begins to tarnish, Charles finds his involvement with the Flyte family gives him polish both as an artist and as an adult, though he has issues with their strong Catholic identity.

In disgrace, Sebastian takes off for points unknown and Charles, though in love with Julia, marries another and attempts to build an independent life. Even so, he is bound to the Flytes and to Brideshead by a thread that twitches, drawing him back and forcing him to face his deepest dilemmas. Love, death, loss, friendship, faith, lack thereof and reconsideration of same, all twine into a gloriously written and acted tapestry that plays out over the course of decades.

Messrs Andrews and Irons both deliver iconic performances and Diana Quick (do I get geek points for knowing she was the longterm partner of another favorite actor, Bill Nighy?)portrays Julia with sensitivity and depth, making her ultimate, excrcuicatingly difficult choice believable. There is love all over this story, but surprise, not in the way one might think at first. The nature of Charles and Sebastian's relationship is open to much debate, with compelling arguments on all sides. (Personally, I go with the one Julia offers.) This is a coming of age story for not only the characters but for England, and I do believe for the astute viewer as well. The eye candy, in scenery and costumes, is droolworthy. Fans of period pieces set in the early 20th century will be in absolute ult, and the iconic score will linger in one's ears for ages. It takes twelve hours to tell this story, and every second is completely worth it.

In short, my favorite movie ever, ever, ever.

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