Brideshead Remade & Revisited

DATELINE: Movies Over TV

Brideshead 2008

Sebastian and Charles in Happier Days.

Back in the early 1980s, one of the grandest early miniseries was that of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. It made stars out of Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews as the stylish Oxford boys of the 1920s.

It’s been re-made, of course, now a regular size movie, not a 14-hour epic. It is digestible, though the character of Charles is not palatable.

This time Ben Whishaw is the foppish noble Sebastian of Brideshead, and his friend is Charles (Matthew Goode) who has affairs with both brother and sister along his calculating life.

An abridged version still manages to capture all the salient details and key scenes, especially in the idyllic and romantic early days with Sebastian. Young Lord Flyte tries to keep Charles from his family, whom he knows will devastate their relationship. He never counted on the fact that Charles brought his own wrecking ball.

Whishaw seemed to have cornered the market on slightly epicene young men for a time, and Matthew Goode has made a career of elevating every movie and series he joins. He even showed up at Downton Abbey.

Emma Thompson is along as the devout Catholic mother of Sebastian, but it is Julia (played by Hayley Atwell) who is a lynchpin of the lynch mob. Nearly every character blames Charles for being a rapacious game player, though he is at a loss to understand the attacks.

The breaking point is Michael Gambon’s effective work as the family patriarch when Charles tries to prevent a priest from giving last rites to the man.

Part of the drama is the lead-up to his denial of self-knowledge that causes him to lose everything of meaning. Sebastian’s friend Antony scathingly notes he thought at first that Charles was a lamb, but later saw he was the true predator.

It may be news for the oblivious in the audience too.

The condensed movie of the longer miniseries is still effective and powerful. Fans of the 1980s version will recognize that one constant came back to replay its role.

Castle Howard once again stands in for Brideshead, and it is still undiminished in its majesty.

 

 

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Walking Across Downton Abbey Roads

DATELINE: PRESTIGIOUS TV

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Murderers Row? No, Just the Unhappy Staff of Downton Abbey

It’s been a year since we last saw the Upstairs/Downstairs clone of PBS revisited. Of course, Eaton Place was small-time London next to the grandeur of Downton Abbey, now growing up to the jazz of the roaring 1920s.

For them, it’s actually been six months since Matthew’s car hit a tree. Time flies slowly for the suffering wealthy. Those widow’s rags went the way of Scarlett O’Hara at the big Civil War ball, but not in Merry Old England where Lady Mary must grieve till it hurts.

For fans a return to the past could not come soon enough, but does not seem to be in the cards. Your favorite characters may have shipped out to Timbuktu, and your least favorite slugs are still skulking about downstairs.

Yet, we have quickly settled in to another short season that takes us back with a rear view mirror to the age of our grandfathers.

If the two-hour American television premiere taught us anything, it is that the drama this season will center on labor hours and workloads. Yes, the decadent rich must hire and fire with abandon from among workers who are poorly trained, have less loyalty, and are becoming as uppity as Bolshevik revolutionaries.

The grand days of Upstairs/Downstairs where a parlor maid stayed in the parlor has gone the way of beating eggs by hand. A new fangled electric eggbeater may be the biggest metaphor of the night at Downton.

We feel as out of place as Maggie Smith’s old dowager Duchess.

We can hardly wait for the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which sent Eaton Place into foreclosure. Downton Abbey, like Brideshead before it, is heading for a great fall.

 

Up the Downton Staircase

 

 

DATELINE: HUMOR!

Avoiding spoilers from the third season of the cult series is like tiptoeing through a minefield. The show has aired in totality in England already and details about the plot abound on the Internet before the American premiere.

We have to avoid the gossip columns too because stars are talking about their roles and the finality of it all.

The problem with shows like Downton Abbey is the suspense is so fragile. Unlike old-fashioned series on TV, the stars showed up for years, week after week, in the same costumes often. They were like rocks of Gibraltar.

Now with these cable miniseries, the stars could be eliminated at any point—and their characters sent packing. Unless you happen to be on True Blood, where death is temporary at best, when you are dead on Downton Abbey, it is permanent.

On top of this, there is the other issue that recently shattered the new Dallas: the actual death of a star like Larry Hagman. Not only will the plot need to be altered drastically, there can be no return at a later date. J.R. is gone forever.

Years ago Patrick Duffy’s character “died” for one season, then he returned, having been victim of his wife’s bad dream.

But, on shows like Downton Abbey where history and plot are true to literature, we cannot expect characters to survive war, pestilence, economic downturns, or medical malfeasance. So will it be on Downton Abbey, as it was on Upstairs/Downstairs a generation ago.

On that show, characters died on the Titanic and blew their brains out when the Stock Market crashed.

That should be foreshadowing enough for Downton fans.

 Be sure to read MOVIES TO SEE–OR NOT TO SEE, a spoiler free book of movie critiques of all the films watched in 2012 by Ossurworld’s Dr. William Russo. The book is available both in e-book and softcover format on Amazon.com.