I went to see a preview showing of the new cinema version of Brideshead Revisited during the week. Courtesy of local newspaper ‘The Post’ I was part of the audience at the Crescent Omniplex to see the films first Irish outing. The costume designer for the Julian Jarrold directed movie is local girl Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh who attended the screening and gave an insight into her craft during a question and answer session afterwards. She has previously teamed up with Jarrold in ‘Becoming Jane’ (2007) and has also worked with directors Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan. The costumes were hand made and her vibrant pallet of colour and contrasting textures combined to create an authentic 1920’s English look.
Evelyn Waugh’s novel was previously serialised for television in the lavish Granada T.V. production of 1981.My vivid memory of that series was the brilliant music score composed by Geoffrey Burgon, especially the opening theme played on a Baroque trumpet. The Miramax film version condenses into two hours the essence of Waugh’s tale and remains true to the spirit if not the letter of the original. Visually stunning with acting, locations and of course costume design all impeccably executed, the film rolls along at a steady pace keeping the viewer on board throughout. The towering presence is the house itself which in fact is the same one used in the earlier t.v. version, and attached to it is the fate of the Flyte family who live under the iron grip of their staunchly Catholic mother,Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson).Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) narrates the tale from his first meeting at Oxford with Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishlaw) to his romantic involvement with the beautiful Julia (Hayley Atwell) and his recurring obsession with Brideshead.
Beyond the human drama there seems to be a strong emphasis in the early part of the story on the irrationality and indeed hypocrisy of religious faith from Ryder’s point of view. However by the end, that faith seems to be the one constant that has survived all the tumults and twists of the family’s history. The mother dominates every aspect of her children’s lives being obsessed with their religious salvation and their adherence to the catholic faith in particular. She is intent that Julia will only marry a catholic and firmly brushes aside Charles advances towards her daughter as he is not even a believer ! Her other concern is for Sebastians alcoholism and homosexual lifestyle, a consideration which becomes a source of conflict between her and Charles, who holds a liberal view on such things.
Waugh was in no doubt as to the theme of his work when he published it in 1945, as he commented that Brideshead Revisited “deals with what is the obliquely termed ‘the operation of the Grace’, that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to himself ”. In the final scene of the film Charles Ryder now an army captain, returns to Brideshead and visit’s the family chapel. A solitary candle is burning before the altar, he cradles the flame between his thumb and forefinger as though to quench it. His fingers never meet,the flame is undisturbed, he walks away. The flicker of the candle flame is like the frail glow of faith, which though apparently weak and fragile is capable of lighting up a dark place! That’s a truth worth remembering and I left the cinema last Monday with that one single image etched in my mind. Not a bad return for a trip to the movies.