When I was a student, most small private women’s college curricula included Brideshead Revisited as required reading in their English departments. It was so in my alma mater. That was many, many years ago, and as a result the movie version did not ignite any recollection of the intricate details of the story.
Charles Ryder, from a poor background, was not the typical Oxford student; he was therefore highly impressed with the lifestyle of his newfound school friend, Sebastian Flyte. Even more so, he was quite taken with Sebastian’s sister Julia when he was invited to spend time at their home, Brideshead, over the summer holiday.
Evelyn Waugh’s novel was published in 1945, a time when the topic of homosexuality was not mentioned in a novel although the subtle inferences might be present. This is true of Brideshead Revisited. In the film, Sebastian is clearly enamored with Charles although we do not sense that Charles returns the affection, except that he is captivated by the aristocratic way of life at Brideshead.
None of the English actors are familiar to an American audience with the exception of Emma Thompson, but they are all superb in their interpretation of their characters. The movie was filmed in England and the magnificent setting of Brideshead is typically English and like nothing we might see in the U.S.
Evelyn Waugh’s conversion to Catholicism underlies much of his writing. Sebastian and Julia’s family are solidly Catholic which deters them, particularly their mother (Emma Thompson), from accepting Charles who claims to be an avowed atheist. At the same time, they need Charles’ help as Sebastian has become a chronic alcoholic and will only listen to Charles.
Although the viewer, I believe, tends to sympathize with Charles and his dilemma, the ending seems to put Charles in a negative light, painting him as an ambitious, money-grubbing individual who uses his friends for his own purposes. I did not agree with this portrayal as I felt that Charles was genuinely in love with Julia and was not after her fortune nor her estate. He also went out of his way to help Sebastian at the request of Sebastian’s mother even though she had previously insulted him and banished him from her home.
I believe Evelyn Waugh wanted his ending to be politically and religiously correct; therefore, the good had to be rewarded and the bad must be punished. This might just be my personal interpretation of the final events. Others might disagree.
Film – Brideshead Revisited (2008)