A movie adaptation of Evelyn Waughs tale of England collapsing under the pressure of social changeeven one that has passed through the pop filter of co-writer Andrew Davies, British TVs designated gatekeeper of all properties literary to the massessounds like much more fun than the 11-hour slog of the 1981 television series. And though I can imagine Waugh rolling his eyes at the idea of Brideshead Revisited as a heartbreaking romantic epic, the movie is, often inadvertently, an improvement on that sepulchral miniseries. Waughs novel doesnt have much of a storysocial upstart Charles Ryder is taken up and nearly destroyed by an aristocratic family bent on destroying itself. But as directed by Julian Jarrold, Brideshead Revisitedrevisited boasts better stately homes and gardens, a marketably youthful cast, and broad winks at the novels repressed homosexual attraction between pallid upstart Charles (Matthew Goode) and Sebastian Flyte (a show-stoppingly queeny Ben Whishaw), while redirecting the eros to Charless wan love for Sebastians sister (Hayley Atwell). As in the novel, though, the great, sick love story is between Sebastian and his mummy, an ice floe played by Emma Thompson as a woman at once energized and doomed by her devotion to Catholic orthodoxy. The movie is far from deep, but you have to admire how it refrains from delivering a postmodern lecture on the perils of fundamentalism and confines itself to Waughs disturbing vision.
July 25-Aug. 1, 2008