August 18, 2008

"Brideshead Revisited"

An excerpt from my review in the print edition of The American Conservative (subscribe here).

No American did more to resuscitate Evelyn Waugh's reputation than the late William F. Buckley. By Waugh's death in Mod 1966, the reactionary Catholic novelist's standing had fallen almost as low as Jay McInerney's is today, yet Buckley's devotion introduced Waugh to a new generation. In Waugh's 1982 apotheosis, the monumental 13-episode Brideshead Revisited miniseries, Buckley was rightly hired to host the show on PBS.

Hence, the news that the new movie adaptation of Brideshead, Waugh's magenta-hued 1945 saga about a decadent Catholic noble family, would star the English actor Matthew Goode was intriguing. Goode (who played an amusing aristocrat in Woody Allen's "Match Point") resembles a young Buckley, especially in his express elevator eyebrows. His patrician magnetism made him a natural to play Sebastian Flyte, the charming toff who beguiles Charles Ryder, an ambitious bourgeois aesthete, when they meet at Oxford in 1923. ...

Unfortunately, the new "Brideshead Revisited" film casts Goode as Charles, the reticent interloper dazed by the refinement of the Flyte family and their stately home Brideshead (played once again by the stupendous Castle Howard in North Yorkshire), leaving Goode few occasions to deploy his Buckleyesque facial gymnastics.

Despite that missed opportunity, the new "Brideshead Revisited" is a perfectly competent film for grown-ups, superior to last year's similar exercise in English upper crust period porn, the Best Picture nominee "Atonement."

"Atonement" invited us to indulge in the modern metasnobbery, to publicly tut-tut about the horrors of the English class system while privately wallowing in the visual splendor it created. In contrast, Waugh was an old-fashioned snob, whose only objection to class was that he wasn't born into the very highest one.

While the 2008 "Brideshead Revisited" is certainly tasteful and efficient, those are just about the last words you'd associate with Waugh's grand but sprawling bestseller, half-masterpiece, half-embarrassment.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Ronduck said...

Well, someone had to leave a comment here.

Black Sea said...

". . . simple creamy English charm, playing tigers."

Like ronduck, I felt that someone should say something, and who better than Anthony Blanche?