by Steven D. Greydanus, Register Correspondent
Tuesday, Aug 12, 2008 3:53 PM Comment
Brideshead Revisited (1981) - Pick
So beloved is
the acclaimed 1981 U.K. miniseries adaptation of Evelyn Waugh?s masterpiece
Brideshead Revisited, that last year it finished in the top 10 in a popular
Best of ?Masterpiece Theatre? poll ? despite not being a ?Masterpiece Theatre?
production. It also placed in the top 10 in the British Film Institute?s 2000
list of greatest British television programs.
Produced by the U.K.?s Granada
Television, aired in the United Kingdom in 1981 on ITV and in the United States
in 1982 on PBS, ?Brideshead Revisited? is in the best tradition of British
television and a terrific rendition of Waugh?s great work.
Though beset by production issues,
including a change of directors and last-minute structuring changes, the
finished work is a triumph. A late decision to greatly extend the scope of the
project resulted in pages of dialogue and narration being lifted directly from
the novel without the intervention of a screenwriter ? much to the delight of
fans of Waugh?s refined prose. Nostalgia, cynicism, longing, loss, beauty,
tragedy ? the full scope of Waugh?s vision is amply realized here.
terrific cast including Jeremy Irons as narrator and protagonist Charles Ryder,
Anthony Andrews as Sebastian Flyte, Diana Quick as Julia, Claire Bloom as Lady
Marchmain and Laurence Olivier as Lord Marchmain do full justice to the complexity
and humanity of Waugh?s characters.
In his breakout performance, Irons
brings out all the conflict and ambiguities of Charles missing in the new
feature film, while Andrews? Sebastian is appealing and vulnerable, not just
extravagant and self-destructive. Bloom finds a humanity in Lady Marchmain that
Emma Thompson?s highly-praised performance lacks.
Most importantly, the miniseries is
true to Waugh?s moral and religious vision ? both the profane and the sacred
(as per the novel?s subtitle, ?The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain
Olivier?s delivery of Marchmain?s
final speech ? though representing a stretch of dialogue Waugh later rethought
and excised from the book ? is brilliant, summing up the spirit, if not the
finished form, of Waugh?s thought and intent.
Leisurely, langorous, luminous, this
is Brideshead as it ought to be revisited and remembered.