Saturday, August 16, 2008

Brideshead Revisited (2008)

Daily Telegraph, May 29 2003

Admirers of Evelyn Waugh will have doubts about Hollywood's intention of producing a major film adaptation of his novel Brideshead Revisited.

Granada's earlier film version was pretty faithful to the novel and a hit. The author of the new script warns us that he has a "darker, more heterosexual" approach to the story. Instead of Charles Ryder's relationship with Sebastian Flyte, he proposes to concentrate on the doomed love affair between Charles and Julia Flyte.

As someone who does not believe in religious themes as Waugh did, Andrew Davies explores how Roman Catholicism destroys their relationship and families. "If God can be said to exist in my version, he would be the villain."

When Hollywood takes a hand in a predominantly English story, we have learnt to be on our guard. We should be even more on our guard when a celebrated scriptwriter promises to give to a familiar story an interpretation fundamentally different from that of the original author.

In writing Brideshead, Waugh made his intention plain. His theme, he explained in a preface to later editions of the novel, was the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters.

From the time of his conversion to Catholicism, and always aware of how his religion helped to counter his imperfections, Waugh was close to his Church and understood its nature. Julia's parting words with Charles are explicit: "But the worse I am, the more I need God. I can't shut myself out from his mercy. That is what it would mean, starting a life with you, without him."

To interpret that as "destructive" is to stand Waugh's theme on its head. Brideshead Revisited without a virtuous God would be like Hamlet without the Prince.

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