DVD Review: New Version of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ Worth a Look

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CHICAGO – The BBC mini-series adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” is so beloved that the new version with Matthew Goode, Hayley Atwell, Ben Whishaw, Emma Thompson, and Michael Gambon was doomed from the beginning. Miramax has done the filmmakers a disservice by releasing their work only on standard DVD, but fans of period pieces or classic literature should give Julian Jarrold’s film a chance.

The most successful thing about “Brideshead Revisited,” besides excellent supporting performances by Thompson and Gambon, is the design. For a budget reportedly under $20 million, there are some significant accomplishments in the film worth seeing and, while it looks good on DVD, Julian Jarrold’s film is the kind that’s made for the HD of Blu-Ray. It’s shameful that it won’t be seen on that format, at least not initially.

Brideshead Revisited is released by Miramax/Walt Disney on January 13th, 2009.
Brideshead Revisited is released by Miramax/Walt Disney on January 13th, 2009.
Photo credit: Miramax

As for the film itself, “Brideshead Revisited” is not as perfect as the mini-series but it does enough right with such a daunting task and low budget that it becomes easy to overlook its flaws.

Matthew Goode (“The Lookout”) is perfectly cast in the daunting role of Charles Ryder, a sometimes cold, hard-to-read character from the Evelyn Waugh classic. Charles is a straight man in a story of over-the-top characters, a fellow caught in a triangle of love and class issues.

Brideshead Revisited is released by Miramax/Walt Disney on January 13th, 2009.
Brideshead Revisited is released by Miramax/Walt Disney on January 13th, 2009.
Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures Home Video

Ryder becomes entrances with the Marchmain family, first becoming close friends with the very tormented Sebastian (Ben Whishaw) and then meeting his beautiful sister Julia. Charles purportedly falls for Julia but Sebastian falls for Charles. The man in the middle faces even more problems with the matriarch of the family brings class and religious issues to the forefront. “Brideshead Revisited” is a story of a country going through massive changes between the World Wars.

Screenwriters Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brock were tasked with compressing the classic novel into just over two hours and the results clearly aggravated purists around the world. If you believe classic literature is sacred and should not be altered, avoid the new “Brideshead Revisited,” but this could have just been a Cliffs Notes version of the book and it’s more than that.

Thompson and Gambon take turn stealing scenes and the film is worth seeing just for their work. As for the three leads, the polite thing to say might be that these challenging roles were a bit outside of their reach. Goode fares the best, but neither Atwell nor Whishaw feel like they really connect with their characters.

Despite that, there’s so much greatness in Waugh’s novel that what remains in this new version of “Brideshead Revisited” is worth seeing even if just for the strength of its source. If only we could see it in Blu-Ray, as all movies, especially ones with period design this detailed, should be available.

“Brideshead Revisited” on DVD is presented in the film’s original 2.40:1 aspect ratio and with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track. Special features include deleted scenes, filmmakers’ audio commentary, and “The World of Brideshead” featurette. It’s not an exhaustive collection of extras but does provide all the information that fans of the film would probably need. No one’s looking for a “Brideshead” gag reel.

‘Brideshead Revisited’ is released by Walt Disney Pictures Home Video and stars Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Hayley Atwell, Emma Thompson, and Michael Gambon. It was written by Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brock and directed by Julian Jarrold. It will be released on January 13th, 2009.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

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