History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

22 August 2008

Brideshead Revisited, Again

Having experienced the “wonder years of PBS”— those fabulous Sunday nights waiting for the latest installment of Poldark, I Claudius, Up the Downstairs Staircase . . . I jumped in line to see the just-released movie Brideshead Revisited.

I was hoping for a great “Merchant Ivory-like” film set in pre-WW II England and some Waugh magic, but I think my expectations were too high. I am not going to write a full blown movie review here—there are plenty of those elsewhere. What I will say is I found myself looking at my watch during the show. Often.

The acting was passable (but not gripping) and the period costumes were fine, but the movie just failed to draw me in. Here’s why: the setting in this story is paramount to the GMC of the protagonist and from the looks of it, the producers did not invest or focus on the setting enough—Brideshead Castle, in real life known as the FABULOUS Castle Howard in Camden England.

Castle Howard (circa 1750) was used for the filming of PBS’s 1980s version of Brideshead Revisited (all 11 installments) and sad to say, in the 2008 movie, in contrast to the PBS version, there is relatively little of the interior castle in any scene. We get snippets of the chapel, the mantel paintings and a few other spots. Show me the sweeping entrance hallway with its grand marble staircase, or the whole crimson dining room (not just the end of the table where the family sits), or the turquoise drawing room. Show me the bedrooms and the expanse of the library and the ballroom. Where were the panoramic views of the gardens and the grounds? I wanted to see this place so coveted by the ambitious commoner named Charles Ryder.

I wanted to want what he wanted.

Did the producers only get the rights to use portions certain rooms--the antique passageway and the fountain, a peacock? What happened here? I never got the sense of grandeur that I know is Castle Howard.

Setting is character. I might have been semi-satisfied with the movie if it had at least delivered some element of what it was supposed to be—a sweeping, historical family saga set against a magnificent estate from a bygone era.

Castle Howard wasn’t the only setting that got the short shift in this movie--check out the depiction of a street carnival in Venice. There were maybe 100 badly-costumed extras hired for this scene, but one of the main characters is supposed to be swept away this “crowd” and scared, all this building to the sexual tension between her and the protagonist (and a pivotal scene in the plot)—but sorry, I just didn’t buy it. Venice is bigger than that. And so is the castle.

If you would like to see what Castle Howard really looks like, check out:


Worth coveting, eh? Even better photos can be found by just googling "Images Castle Howard."

Did anyone else see this movie and feel like the house didn’t get enough air time?

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Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I haven't seen the new Brideshead because I was a huge fan of the original. I even read the book because I couldn't wait each week to find out what happened. I was also lucky enough to have Diana Quick who played Julia as an acting teacher when I studied in London. I was glad to see that they kept Castle Howard as the location but bummed that they didn't really use it. I'm wondering if it was because the budget was really low. I remember reading an article in Vanity Fair about the house and how the woman who is married to the owner always wanted to live there, and was determined to marry the owner and she did.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I've yet to see the film because I adored the miniseries Elizabeth refers to. To me, it's the "touchstone Brideshead", although I have to confess that I never read the novel!

I've always wanted to visit Castle Howard, so thank you, Kathrynn, for the sneak peek!

1:35 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Hi Elizabeth, the Castle Howard official website has the whole story about the woman who married the man who inherited the castle. He (they) were determined to save and restore it . . . much of it was destroyed by fire (20 rooms) in the 1940s. He said it costs millions yearly to maintain it, and the cost of admissions to the thousands that go on public tours goes a long way to keeping in good repair.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I've never read the novel either, Amanda, but I have watched the original PBS series.

The author hated his book even though the NYT reviews lists it as as one of the top 10 books ever written!

2:59 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I too loved the earlier version of Brideswhead Revisited. I do want to see the movie, but I have a hard time imagining how a movie could capture all the richness and nuance the series did. I read the book after I saw the series, and the original series is very true to the book--pretty much every scene in the book is in the series, and there's only one scene in the series, as I recall, that isn't in the book.

In the series, I thought the house was used wonderfully and really became a character in it's own right. Interestingly, it wasn't until recently that I realized (I can be slow :-), that the title basically means "virginity revisted."

6:27 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Virginigty revisited???? Wow, Tracy I didn't know that either, but I wondered about the origin of the name Brideshead...thanks for the info!

7:29 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Equating "brideshead" with "maidenhead." Which really fits, as Charles is revisiting his moral and romantic virginity in returning to Brideshead.

8:22 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

I agree with you entirely, Kathryn. I was very disappointed in their use of Castle Howard. Why bother, was what I thought. What they showed could have been recreated on a soundstage. Yes, I will go back to the miniseries version and be perfectly happy. Setting IS character, especially in this story. I have read the book and the place is entirely the point.

6:43 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

The trailers for the new Brideshead Revisited were imo horrendous. The usually wonderful Emma Thompson looked as though she'd been embalmed and spoke her lines as though from the proverbial crypt. What a revoltin' development.

But I've always wanted to see the Masterpiece Theatre version (which I missed) and evidently I'm not alone in this. Adding it to my Netflix queue yesterday, I was informed that I was in for a LONG wait.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Yes, Pam, I have to agree. You picked up in the trailer another huge weakness...along with the lack of the house, the whole movie was really hurt hurt by Emma Thompson's weak portrayal of the mother. She was just not strong enough, controlling enough or self rightous enough. They needed Judy Dench. ;-)

9:16 AM  

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