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Brideshead Revisited - international film DVD / drama DVD review
BRIDESHEAD REVISITED Rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 stars
Featuring: Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Haley Atwell, Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon
Director: Julian Jarrold   Studio: Miramax
DVD release: 13 January 2009   Runtime: 100 minutes
(1 disc)
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
DVD Features: Aspect ratio 2.40:1, Audio tracks (English - Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), Subtitles (English, Spanish), The World of Brideshead, Audio commentary (w/ dir. Julian Jarrold, prod. Kevin Loader, screenwriter Jeremy Brock), Deleted scenes

While watching this version of Brideshead Revisited (based on Evelyn Waugh's classic multi-layered novel about the decade-long relationship between a lower-middle class young man and an aristocratic family), I was stuck with a curious new perspective on the story. Though it is still a romance novel, who, or what exactly, is Charles in love with? Is he ever truly in love with Julia, or with her brother, Sebastian, for that matter? Or is he not in love with either them but instead with their stature and title, so imposingly represented by the Brideshead estate? Is he willing to pay the steep price that comes with acceptance into such a family?

Furthermore, is it possible to be happily in love with people who are dominated by their mother (one who sees herself as defending their souls)? What if these people are also in constant internal conflict with, yet also devoted to, their religious faith? Should a non-believer force them to choose? Does he have the right to?

This adaptation tries very hard to address the novel's key themes. However, the core questions explored in Waugh's novel are so ambitious and profound that the film simply runs out of time and can only scratch the surface of the themes explored in-depth in the novel (though I have not seen it, other critics have noted that an acclaimed mini-series for BBC television in the early 1980s starring Jeremy Irons is still the superior version, mainly because the miniseries' length gave it time to explore the novel's core questions in greater detail).

Still, there is much about this film that makes it worth watching. For one, it is quite elegant and beautifully shot, with on-location filming at Oxford, Venice, Morocco, and "Brideshead" itself - the estate is breathtakingly beautiful but also quite imposing (the film subtly turns the estate into a more ominous, oppressive presence by the conclusion).

Furthermore, the film is almost perfectly cast. Matthew Goode has the large but curiously thankless role of Charles; his job is primarily to react, rather than act, to the actions and emotions expressed by those around him. Haley Atwell is solid if not special as Julia, rather childish and flirty at first, yet quite sympathetic by the end. As expected, Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon, two of the greatest actors alive, effortlessly fill their critical roles as the matriarch and patriarch of the family.

However, the film is stolen by Ben Whishaw as Sebastian. He dominates every scene his in, whether he is acting flamboyantly gay, being torn apart inside by the conflict between his homosexuality and his faith (not to mention failing to live up to the expectations of his mother), or having his heart broken by Charles. After Perfume, I'm Not There and this performance, Whishaw has become one of my favorite young actors to watch.

Again, there is a sense that any theatrical version of this story that aims for a reasonable length (this version clocks in at 133 minutes) will clearly be biting off more than it can chew. Still, fans of period British dramas should still find much to enjoy in this film. Even if it does not quite measure up to the formidable novel, it is still worth visiting.

The usual (deleted scenes, commentary, a making-of featurette).
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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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