Matthew Goode, Anna Madeley, Ben Winshaw and Emma Thompson star in the romantic drama Brideshead Revisited, based on the book by Evelyn Waugh and a 1982 mini-series starring Jeremy Irons. Thompson delivers a small yet powerful performance and director Julian Jarrold creates a compelling yet ultimately subdued picture that possesses good character development but little intensity.
Brideshead Revisited is about a young man named Charles (Goode) who is invited to the home of a young aristocrat named Sebastian (Winshaw) and his family. While Charles and Sebastian are best friends - and perhaps something slightly more - their relationship is tested when Charles falls for Sebastian's sister, Celia (Madeley). Years later, Celia and Sebastian reunite for a forbidden affair, but their love may not be strong enough to overcome the many obstacles to their happiness.
The movie is intriguing at times and always compelling, led by strong though rather flighty performances. Goode is... well, good in the lead, and Winshaw is equally capable. Madeley is also quite good, though you can tell by my repeated use of the word "good" - not counting the actor's name - that the performances weren't dazzling. The screenplay has a very old fashioned feel to it, which is fine, though the superficial nature of the characters in the first act tends to always keep you at arm's length. The actors compensate as best as they can, but it's only Thompson who really breaks through. While she has had stronger roles in other movies, Thompson is commanding when on screen in Brideshead Revisited.
The movie does develop interesting characters, but suffers from a lack of strong chemistry between Charles and Celia. Their relationship hinges upon but a moment, yet director Julian Jarrold doesn't manage to get a good grip on that moment and what it means to the two of them. The final act feels emotionally removed, and where you should care for how the characters end up, the feeling is simply a sense of mild anticipation. And this is the problem with Brideshead Revisited: it lacks intensity. Jarrold plays to the British polite-talk and doesn't dive under the surface of his actors. There is no sense of momentum or building tension, which is rather odd as it is a movie based on romantic tension.
Brideshead Revisited is a decent movie but its unwillingness to build upon itself fails to set it apart from other similar films. It feels like Atonement only without the emotional investment.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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