When the TV series of Brideshead Revisited hit UK screens in the early 1980s it saw most UK households tuning in.
Those of us old enough will remember that adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel, and recall how Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews played the lead roles in the 1920s-40s-set tale in which commoner Charles Ryder gets drawn into the world of a Catholic family and its ancestral home Brideshead when he forms a close friendship with troubled aristocrat Sebastian at Oxford University.
Since I can still recall that theme tune and Sebastian’s famous teddy bear, I must’ve watched some of that 1981 miniseries, but being in my early teens at this time, I was about to enter my room and not emerge for five to six years.
Yes I was a typical teen, but despite my antisocial habits, I was well aware of the popularity of Brideshead Revisited and I even picked up on the suggestion of something intimate in the relationship between Charles and Sebastian, even though it was never referred to overtly.
It was the 80s after all – the decade when homosexuality was strongly hinted at, but never mentioned. While the adults had Brideshead Revisited and its ambiguous portrait of a same sex affair, that same decade had kids like me listening to Wham!, Kajagoogoo, The Pet Shop Boys, Marc Almond, Culture Club et al in our bedrooms.
Now that we’re approaching 2010, things have moved on a little and sexual diversity is more widely accepted, which is I presume why the recent Julian Jarrold movie adaption of Waugh‘s novel has been much more upfront about portraying the passion between Sebastian (Ben Wishaw) and Charles (Matthew Goode).
But I’m not sure that this blatancy works.
I hadn’t read anything about the film before viewing it, so I was extremely surprised to see the sexual tension between the two men (which I expected to remain tantalisingly ambiguous) develop quite suddenly into an upfront, no question about it kiss.
Now, I’m all for the depiction of same sex relationships in film. And, I absolutely loved screenwriter Andrew Davies’s work on the TV series adaptation of the Sarah Waters novel Tipping the Velvet. However, with Brideshead Revisited the movie, I’m not totally convinced by the explicit depiction of Sebastian’s sexuality. People will argue that it’s hinted at quite strongly in Waugh’s 1945 novel, but surely the fact that it’s not declared clearly provides an element of uncertainty that gives the story a certain edge?
In the 2008 film it’s all totally transparent. By spoon-feeding audiences and presenting Sebastian as overtly gay, I fear that the filmmakers have robbed this character of his fascinating ambiguity and turned him into a whining, damaged, increasingly unbalanced character, especially when set off against Emma Thompson’s brilliantly cold and uncompromising performance as his mother Lady Marchmain.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I feel that Sebastian’s character has been used simply to provide a foil to the relationship the masses really want to see – the more acceptable heterosexual love affair between Charles and Sebastian’s sister Julia (Hayley Atwell).
What do you think? Were you disappointed by this film’s lack of ambiguity or did the transparent love triangle story work for you?
Brideshead Revisited is showing tonight at 24.15 am on Sky Movies Premiere
(This film was originally scheduled to show at 10.35pm today and tomorrow, but Sky have just moved the movie into the 12.15am slot for both days. So, if you’re not a night owl you’re best checking this film out later in the week).
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