brideshead revisited (1981)

evelyn waugh has a wicked sense of humour, and brideshead revisited is no exception. we picked up the 750 minute mini-series from the local library in hopes of some decent entertainment, and here are the results.

episode 1: et in arcadia ego
we are introduced to charles ryder (jeremy irons). wow, young irons. he is in the military, suffering the idiocy of powerfreaks. we learn he is a painter, and quite sensitive to the social sufferings of his fellow officers. soon our characters wind up outside an estate known as brideshead. ryder has been there before. and so begins a journey into the history of charles ryder and how he came to know brideshead.

charles attends oxford and is one of the good boys. soon he winds up hanging out with the dandies, developing a reputation with a certain sebastian flyte (anthony andrews). sebastian is a chap who insists on carrying about a large, stuffed teddy bear named aloysius with him.

school ends, charles ends up at home. blast. boring. however this is probably the most amusing bit thus far. john gielgud plays his father, edward, an eccentric fellow who appreciates imaginary constructs and torturing the young charles with condescension. gielgud is hilarious here. alas, the fun must end as charles receives a note that sebastian is hurt and he must rush off by train to brideshead at once.

episode 2: home and abroad
brideshead. charles and sebastian spend many days wandering the estate and drinking vintage wine while sebastian’s foot heals. we are introduced the rest of the brideshead clan, and wander through much discussion of religion, specifically catholicism. we get to see jeremy iron’s scrawny white ass. a boring episode, really, compared to the first one.

suddenly i realize that the figures of charles and sebastian in venice is very reminiscent of the talented mr. ripley, and that if they ever redid brideshead the character of sebastian would undoubtedly be played by jude law.

episode 3: the bleak light of day
a decline episode. charles and sebastian begin strongly together, and through the episode they grow apart. as charles notes, while moving closer to sebastian’s family he floats farther apart from sebastian.

after a proper function they get royally drunk, go for a ride in a motor car with some ladies, and sebastian ends up facing drunken driving charges. they are saved by the quick thinking rex mottram, who contrives a plot in which the crown is convinced that sebastian had just come down from oxford and was not at all accustomed to wine. rex is played by a youngish charles keating, whose presence immediately dredged up childhood memories of watching the american soap another world as a boy, during summers away from school. charles keating played that rascal carl hutchins, who i quite liked.

the significant event this episode of brideshead is the mysterious disappearance of dear aloysius. his flightful air and benevolent manner is missed gravely. i suspect the remaining episodes shall not be the same without him, as sebastian continues his decline into drunken adulthood. if only our brave aloysius were there to support him through these troubling times.

episode 4: sebastian against the world
the fall. sebastian’s drunkenness reaches new lows. his depression and alcoholism are brought into the open through several unbecoming incidents. sebastian is sent down from oxford, and he goes abroad for travel with his caretaker. charles is simply crushed by this news. while charles is packing up after his term at oxford our old boy aloysius makes a guest spot. huzzah aloysius! i hope he doesn’t turn into a drunkard like his friend sebastian.

charles’ father approves of him quitting oxford to take up painting. his father that this should be done “abroad” if at all possible. more gielgud. huzzah again!

it is painful, however, watching charles skirt around the edges of a family collapsing in upon itself. they want to pull him in and reject him all at once. poor charles. for fans of jeremy irons’ physique, there is more of it in this installment.

episode 5: a blow upon a bruise
charles and sebastian spend a holiday together at brideshead by chance. the bottles are initially banished, but sebastian is a fiend on the prowl. eventually the family lets him at the drink and he obliterates himself. there is talk of an intervention.

the title of this episode says it all. a very sad affair. charles is away crushed. we now understand the sadness he faces in episode one when he first sets eyes on brideshead after so many years.

looked on the back of the video and realized we are not yet at the halfway point. this is fine by me, as it is turning out to be an admirable series. we acquired these from the library, so i’m hoping i can find the other 975 episodes haven’t been rented by someone who’s died or absconded with them when they fled the country. worse yet, we’ll find all the episodes are viewable except the last half hour of the series which is garbled in some way. that’s the risk of mini-series by library.

interlude
about two months in which the middle episodes in the brideshead series are rented from the public library by another individual, as i feared would happen, causing much irritation and waiting. and waiting. and waiting.

episode 6: julia
where were we? ah, yes. sebastian has disappeared, with 300 quid, though he was left under the watchful eye of rex. but this episode of brideshead, as titled, is about julia. it begins with memories (note: things that happened in the past must be remembered in sepia). then it moves on to the roots and development of the relationship between julia and rex. perhaps the most memorable part of this episode involve rex’s attempts at converting from protestantism to catholicism. he approaches the task with the logical mind of a businessman, thinking he can simply sign a form and be done with it. his character infuses much needed wit into this episode. nonetheless, this digression from the primary plot is a welcome narrative, and amusing unto itself.

episode 7: the unseen hook
charles learns of the whereabouts of sebastian. upon the request of lady marchmain on her deathbed, charles goes to fez to convince him to come to england.

what charles finds is a broken man, withered by drink and having taken up with a nasty german fellow. this is the last we will see of sebastian, broken and pitiful.

the one bright spot in this episode is the appearance of charles’ father and his brutal wit and harsh honesty.

episode 8: brideshead deserted
charles is commissioned by bridey to paint the house, which charles gladly does.

now this is where things became confusing for me. perhaps i blanked out or the series is simply confusing. charles, seemingly out of nowhere, is married. he returns from a two year trip through south america and mexico and we find out that he has a wife that he had left behind. say what?

the notable bit in this episode is the awful looking beard that charles emerges with. fortunately, he will soon have it removed. only a ghastly moustache shall remain, a reminder that the series soon draws to a close and we near the time whence the drama began so many episodes ago.

episode 9: orphans of the storm
or, the charles and julia get it on episode.

after much coo-cooing charles and julia come out in the open with their love, and both charles’ wife celia and julia’s husband rex are well aware.

this episode also contains the brief return of the absurd anthony blanche. it is difficult, really, to describe how absurd the man is. he made me think of tim curry.

episode 10: a twitch upon the thread
bridey is engaged, and will eventually lose his virginity (there is a great joke about this made in the final episode by lord marchmain, bridey’s father).

as well, cordelia returns. she was in spain helping the wounded during the civil war.

everyone seems pleasant enough and the sight of charles and julia being close has grown commonplace. this is a sad episode, in some ways, as we know our tale will soon wind to an end. we can sense the threads of closure sewing shut the grand narrative of brideshead.

episode 11: brideshead revisited
war looms. lord marchmain returns from abroad to brideshead, displacing bridey, largely because he has come home to die. the episode begins with a great deal of wit by lord marchmain, but quickly dissolves into a struggle over religion. the children are all aghast that their father has repelled the priest and the concept of a religious death. charles is in complete accord with lord marchmain and this is the cause of certain strife with the family. the theme of religion and morality strung throughout the episodes reaches its apex here.

father mackay is brought in for absolution while lord marchmain seems to be at death’s door. there is a scuffle, charles vehemently arguing that the father should not be allowed in while lord marchmain is still alive as the shock may be enough to kill him.

these are the final turns around the noose that charles ties for himself. you had the lady! you had the house! and you flushed it, charles. his cynicism towards religion and belief in truth get the better of him and he forces himself out of julia’s life.

it is all little more than a memory now. charles goes off to war, and brideshead represents a fond but depressing reminder of yesteryear when he comes across it one cold day in the course of duty during the war.

the house is empty, save for a few serving girls, much military equipment, and old nanny hawkins in her room. charles takes tea to old nan and gets the goods on the recent history of the marchmains. nan reminded me of a delightful nanny i once knew, the grandmother of family friends, the kind of elderly lady that outlives most of her children, grandchildren, and possibly great-grandchildren.

later, a young soldier says to charles, “you said you knew this place before.”

“yes. it belongs to friends of mine.”

charles still has his sense of humour when he jokingly says “i’m homeless, childless, middle-aged, and loveless.” after a bit of cheering he makes his way to the chapel, kneels, and says a prayer.

afterword
what is to be said? a thousand other shards of narrative than i have given here. this is a slow moving story that is filled will countless touching, humourous, and intriguing moments. it leaves you feeling complete and tired, having traveled the long journey through charles’ life as a young man and into middle age.

although the sheer size of this series is daunting, i encourage you wholeheartedly to take it on one wintry week when you are well stocked with bombay sapphire tonics and your heart is open to the world of evelyn waugh’s brideshead.