Sunday, May 25, 2003

Brideshead Revisited (TV serialisation)

Published on

The most remarkable thing about the TV dramatisation of "Brideshead Revisited" is that when you return to the written word you realise how perfect the casting and the production was. It is impossible to think of anybody but Jeremy Irons as Charles or Anthony Andrews as Sebastian - and the other key roles were equally brilliantly portrayed - Diana Quick's delicious but disturbed Julia; Claire Bloom's controlled and certain Lady Marchmain - and Olivier's funny and moving Lord Marchmain.

Waugh's novel is one of the truly great works of fiction of the 20th century. It describes a lost era by contrasting it with the changes the Second World War was creating to society and to the old order of things. Although the novel's publication pre-dated the landslide Labour win of 1945 by a couple of years there is nevertheless an undercurrent of the inevitability of change. Some of the characters are the new order (Charles's junior officer Hooper for example) - and those who are clearly unsuited to the post war world die before the end (Lord and Lady Marchmain do not live to see the inevitable desecration of their great country house). The TV adaptation captures this sense of change as elegantly as the novel. We see Charles encounter the realities of life (death; divorce; adultery; the need to earn a living; the fall from grace of his friend) which contrasts beautifully with the distant idyll of Oxford with Sebastian and his bear.
Brideshead is an achingly real book - none of the hilarious fantasies of Scoop or Decline and Fall are here. I do not think that the novel has one false moment in it's hundreds of pages - and the TV adaptation is equally sure footed. Watch it in one sitting if you can find the time - maybe with a glass or two of Chardonnay and some plovers eggs by your side!