- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2008

When producers announced a new adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s lush 1945 novel “Brideshead Revisited,” the question on many lips was: “Why?”

The book had already been made into a 1981 miniseries. The flawless production is, at 11 hours, an almost word-for-word adaptation of the original. You couldn’t possibly improve on it.

Still, it was a silly question. Although available on DVD, it’s likely that many potential younger fans haven’t seen the series, and - let’s face it - not everyone has the patience to sit through an 11-hour period drama. A big-screen “Brideshead” might have brought the book a new generation of fans.

New admirers who do pick up the book after watching the movie, however, will be in for a surprise: Mr. Waugh’s theological tale of the sometimes surprising workings of divine grace has been turned, for the most part, into a saga of social climbing.

One doesn’t expect a 133-minute film to mirror perfectly a 300-odd-page novel, but this one’s soul has been torn asunder. It’s too bad, because director Julian Jarrold (“Becoming Jane”) has made a beautiful film that marvelously captures the heady atmosphere of the novel and coaxed compelling performances from his three young leads.

Oxford changed his life.

Sebastian (Ben Whishaw) introduced himself by drunkenly vomiting in Charles’ sitting room. Sebastian apologizes by inviting Charles to lunch. Drinking champagne and eating quail eggs sent over from Brideshead, the shy Charles is initiated into a world of conspicuous consumption. The two become fast friends, devoted to each other and the search for beauty.

Nowhere does Charles see more of it than at Brideshead. (Castle Howard, the same Emma Thompson), and the Catholic matriarch won’t let her daughter marry an atheist. She wants Charles to keep an eye on her hard-drinking son. As Charles’ affections shift from Sebastian to Julia - it’s clearer here than in the novel that the two men had a physical relationship - the tortured believer Sebastian becomes even more detached from friends and family.

This version of “Brideshead” posits Charles as more of a social schemer, one who didn’t fall in love with a family and a way of life so much as with a woman who could provide it for him.

All might have been forgiven if the screenwriters hadn’t recast the theme. “Brideshead Revisited” is, in part, a picture of how unbending belief can tear people apart. The writers neglected to notice that Mr. Waugh held that belief can also piece them back together again.

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TITLE: “Brideshead Revisited”

RATING: PG-13 (some sexual content)

CREDITS: Directed by Julian Jarrold. Written by Evelyn Waugh.

RUNNING TIME: 133 minutes

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