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dir Julian Jarrold
scr Jeremy Brock, Andrew Davies
with Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Hayley Atwell, Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon, Greta Scacchi, Jonathan Cake, Ed Stoppard, Felicity Jones, Patrick Malahide, Anna Madeley, Joseph Beattie
release US 25.Jul.08, UK 3.Oct.08
08/UK BBC 2h12
Summer loving: Goode, Atwell and Whishaw
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
It doesn't happen very often that a film is too beautifully shot to come to life. But this new version of the Evelyn Waugh tale of conflicts in class, sexuality and religion is more about the sumptuous imagery than the provocative subtext.
From an ordinary background, Charles (Goode) is quickly seduced by the colourful side of university life, developing a friendship with flamboyant aristocrat Sebastian (Whishaw), who lives in the massive Brideshead (played by Castle Howard) with his indomitable mother (Thompson), dewy sister Julia (Atwell) and two other siblings (Stoppard and Jones). Their father (Gambon) has escaped their mother's Catholic piety by running off to Venice with his mistress (Scacchi). But amid Charles' "romantic friendship" with Sebastian, he starts to fall for Julia. Or maybe he's really in love with the house.
Jarrold directs with a remarkable attention to the settings, capturing each scene with colour, texture, swirling smoke and rippling water. The costumes are immaculate, and the countryside looks postcard-perfect. This is England between the wars, when opulence abounded and class meant everything. So when Charles upsets the repressed status quo, it's going to get ugly.
Except that it doesn't. The script glides through the deep conflicts without breaking a sweat. The cast barely need to bat an eyelid. Whishaw is sympathetically camp and pathetic, and Atwell is full of suppressed internal turmoil, but besides looking handsome in a flannel suit, Goode never quite registers. We're never sure what either Sebastian or Julia see in Charles.
So it's left to Thompson, Gambon and Scacchi to provide both grativas and some expertly subdued scene-stealing. They also offer the only moments of raw humanity, because everything else has been brushed clean, especially the single sex scene, which looks like a Red Shoe Diaries sequence, censored for an after-school audience. Even here there's no sense of passion or desire.
Basically, Brock and Davies have written a script that's even more euphemistic than the book. They get the whole concept of repression utterly wrong. Because while there are serious themes for us to ponder, and intriguing characters to follow, it's impossible to care about any of it. It's like the filmmakers are only on board so they can create some pretty pictures on screen.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S
|T.J. Fallon, Charlotte, NC: "How is such an reactionary film so celebrated. What cad would want to celebrate the ancienne regime and that form of Jansenist Catholicism that the Jesuits and their ilk infected Great Britain?" (4.Aug.08)
© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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