Around that same time, PBS aired the British miniseries titled "Brideshead Revisited," Evelyn Waugh's novel about British aristocracy during the 20th century. This was the most ambitious miniseries in PBS history,featured the knights, Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir John Gielgud and introduced a new comer to American audiences, Jeremy Irons as the protagonist, Charles Ryder. This thirteen hour miniseries also hinted about a homosexual relationship involving Charles Ryder and his college chum, Sebastian. Unlike "Love Sidney," "Brideshead Revisited" was part of **Masterpiece Theater** on the public broadcasting system and there was no need to fear the wrath of sponsorship. Twenty six years later "Brideshead Revisited" will debut on the big screen with a running time of approximately two and one half hours.
Charles Ryder is now portrayed by Matthew Goode. Struggling with through college, Ryder befriends a swishy dandy undergraduate, Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw). Despite warnings from upper class men about associating with "those sodomites," Charles Ryder becomes attracted to Flyte's lifestyle and perspective of the world. Sebastian eventually invites Charles to meet his family in Brideshead.
The Brideshead Mansion symbolizes the life that Charles Ryder could only dream about. It is a mansion with Greek statues, ballrooms and a chapel for Mother Matriarch Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson) to practice her Catholicism. Julia Flyte (Hayley Atwell) also lives in Brideshead and she develops an affection for Sebastian's new found friend, Charles.
If Charles and Sebastian are Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn respectfully, then Julia becomes the boy's Becky Thatcher. Charles becomes attracted to Julia, creating a riff in his relationship with Sebastian. Sebastian drinks heavily and becomes abusive in Venice and at a grand reception at Brideshead, much to Lady Marchmain's disdain.
Emma Thompson steals "Brideshead Revisited" from the ensemble of actors. Lady Marchmain is a small role, but it is a powerful role that commands attention. Thompson has the ability to look tough, but the actress still manages to convey a mother's brittle hopes for her tortured son, Sebastian. Ben Whishaw scores by revealing flamboyant Sebastian who faces a painful future with dignity. As Julia Flyte, Hayley Atwell is charming and Matthew Goode carries the narrative burden of "Brideshead Revisited" upon his shoulders.
Lost in most of the publicity of "Brideshead Revisited" is religious element. The Catholicism presented by Lady Marchmain's family is comical at times, especially for Charles Ryder the atheist. Yet as the story of "Brideshead Revisited" concludes, one wonders if Charles Ryder would have found some grace from a sense of religious conviction. At least Emma Thompson's Lady Marchmain can expect some Academy Award grace in February 2009.