“I hear they took a lot of things out and changed everything. I’ll probably hate this.” Those worried remarks were uttered by a woman seated behind me as I settled in to watch Brideshead Revisited. I soon realized that her worst fears were likely coming true, and that I was going to have a great time.
Most films offer a key around the fifteen minute mark, often some bit of dialog, usually buried under some innocuous seeming exposition. In Brideshead Revisited, the main character Charles Ryder, an artist, is asked why he bothers with paintings when he could simply take a photograph. He replies that a camera is merely a mechanical device, impersonal. With a painting – however imperfect it may be – one can interpret the subject as well as usher forth otherwise hidden emotions.
This is director Julian Jarrold’s sly way of stating his intent with his adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's 1945 classic British novel. His aims were to interpret and in his own imperfect way delve into what emotionally drew him to the book. One might say that, if the reverent 1981 television miniseries was a photograph of the novel, Jarrold’s movie is a painting.
I haven’t read the book. Observing the shape and focus of Jarrold’s movie raised some suspicions though that the movie may be charting a different course. Those suspicions were largely confirmed later by a quick Internet search.
The movie focuses on Charles’s romantic affairs with a brother and sister, Sebastian and Julia Flyte, both set aflame by shared kisses in romantic locales, a nice bit of symmetry. It is Charles’s kiss with Julia by the canals, accidentally observed by Sebastian, which brings death to the first affair in the city of Venice. Sebastian then slips into a drunken depression and winds up alone in Morocco to later be visited by Charles.