Bridesheads, 1981 vs. 2008

Brideshead Revisited

“Your arrival has emboldened me to ring for tea.”

“You have no medical knowledge. You are not in Holy Orders…”

“You might think, living in digs, that I don’t know what goes on in college. But I hear things.”

It’s from The Waste Land. Anthony Blanche recites part of the T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.

“I swear it’s a pleasure to clean up after him.”

“Why’d you do that?” “Oh. I dunno. Just good manners.”

“Cousin Melchior came up a cropper! …Don’t you miss your national game?”

“Rex Mottram doesn’t correspond to any degree of paganism known to the missionaries.”

Longtime readers know that we do fancy Brideshead Revisited.

The tale has many charms—as many, perhaps, as the Flytes themselves have.

Something possessed me to take the 2008 movie version out of the library. I had forgotten that knowledgeable individuals referred to that particular adaptation as “Brideshead Eviscerated.”

Not just because pikers turn up to play the roles once occupied by giants. Wait a minute—Sir Lawrence Olivier (a man of Byronic aura indeed) has been replaced by some pasty-faced roué? The cadaverous Casaubon of “Middlemarch” (Patrick Malahide) has replaced Sir John Gielgud? Okay: Emma Thompson. But Clair Bloom (Lady Marchmain in 1981) matches her point-for-point. Languid young Jeremy Irons has been replaced by a paler, clueless version of himself who doesn’t know how to smoke.

Brideshead Revisited miniseriesBut, the main thing, the main casting lacuna in this shambles of a 2008 movie: Beautiful Anthony Andrews, the Adonis whose measureless attractiveness made all the bizarre love triangles of the 1981 BBC version make sense—the amusing young gentleman, who believably crawled around the floor looking for Kurt’s lost cigarettes—unforgettable, bewitching Anthony Andrews has been replaced by some effeminate young man who looks like Morrisey’s emaciated nephew. Please.

But that, dear reader, ain’t all.

Evelyn Waugh loved God, and God’s religion, ie. Catholicism.

He loved it because it hurt, because it’s true, because God’s grace really does operate on us through the sacraments. The novel unfolds the unconquerable love of God that has pounded its way through all the human centuries with the same relentlessness with which Father Mackay keeps coming back to visit Lord Marchmain on his deathbed.

Now, to be honest with you, I find the novel overly heavy. Waugh was a master of depressing little details. The 1981 miniseries, in my opinion, adds some panache to the story–but still I find the later episodes too dreary to deal with. I simply cannot endure Charles Ryder, neither the character in the novel, nor the endlessly smoking Jeremy Irons.

But, nonetheless, the theme of Brideshead Revisited, novel and faithful 1981 adaptation, shines majestic and unmistakable: the ancient faith conquers. It conquers every complexity of life, swallowing it all up in an ocean of beauty. The very act of creation is a divine mercy, and the arcadia of our youth will endure, as soon as we let go of everything we grasp so tightly, so desperately, so selfishly. (And this will also result in our having good manners while we continue our short sojourn in this veil of tears.)

This sorry excuse for a 2008 version grasps self-righteously, ham-handedly, and nonsensically at a delusion. It engages in the ridiculous conceit that the Flytes Waugh created can be charming–at least Julia, Sebastian, and papa anyway–without Catholicism being true.

The Flytes are endlessly charming, all of them. Catholicism is true.

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