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.
A 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 Charles Ryder?).
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.