It really IS about guilt.

In the past week (in a fit of post- paper-submission rashness) I have watched two movies based on books and found neither satisfactory.

The first was Twilight. There is little to say of it except that lines that were funny on paper are somehow more hilarious when said by a sparkly Hufflepuff. Kristen Stewart had a constant “WTF” expression (does she always, or was it merely bewilderment at finding herself being called “spidermonkey” by a glittering Cedric Diggory?). The movie was only redeemed by Ashley Greene’s adorable hair and by not containing (of necessity) Meyer’s dreadful prose.

The second, and far more interesting to me, was last year’s remake of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I have loved that book since I first encountered it in a school library ten years ago. I’m also very fond of the 1981 BBC TV series starring Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder; in part because it was so faithful (at something like 10 hours long it could be), and because it was so gentle, and nuanced, and full of pretty people.

The new adaptation is the normal length of a movie and so cannot afford such luxuries as nuance. Right before the film started the friend I watched it with wondered how one would cram it all into 2.5 hours. “This is a movie about sex and Catholic guilt”?

…and then it started, and about three lines into it Charles was claiming that all he felt was guilt. From then on the movie bludgeoned you with it.

There are some entertaining moments. Every passage featuring Charles’ father (played, I think, by Patrick Malahide?) is a thing of beauty – though the focus on his chessboard made me think of an entertaining scenario where Mr. Ryder is the godlike, mastermind who organizes all of this for Charles’ education. There’s also a (terrible, really, but we giggled) bit where Sebastian’s brother Bridey informs the audience that he likes “huntin’, shootin’… and fishin’”.

On the whole, though, it’s awful. Matthew Goode as Charles is gorgeous, but not very interesting. Ben Whishaw is also attractive, but (unlike Anthony Andrews, who really was fascinating) at no point is it obvious that Charles would fall in love with him. He’s also made rather more camp than in the book (while Anthony Blanche, bafflingly, is made less so). Julia (played by Hayley Atwell) is much better than either of these, but in the earlier parts of the movie she has none of the air of unattainability that she has in the book. Plus the rather cringe-worthy reunion between her and Charles (the audience is subjected to this scene twice) prejudices one against her.

With three characters who aren’t particularly interesting, the only way the audience could possibly know that there was anything going on between them is for Charles and Sebastian to drunkenly kiss, for Charles and Julia to kiss, for Sebastian to witness said kiss and be sad over it, and for Lady Marchmain to warn Charles that Julia is “destined” to marry a Catholic.

Lady Marchmain. She worked well enough as a character (as you’d expect of any role Emma Thompson undertook) but she was too individual, and too forceful for me. The Lady Marchmain of the book is a rather menacing character because she remains a shadowy, background figure identified almost entirely with the House itself. Thompson’s version is sympathetic, interesting, and actually too much of a real person.

On the whole….no. I think I’d rather reread the book.

5 Comments to “It really IS about guilt.”

  1. This is so timely – I just saw the new Brideshead yesterday and I was expecting it to, well not be that good, but really it was quite awful. Charles even in the book isn’t the most interesting charector but really Matthew Goode has all the personality of boiled cabbage and the whole Charles-Sebastian-Julia weird love triangle angle irritated me no end. I didn’t think much of Ben Whishaw but that might be in large part because Anthony Andrews so embodied Sebastian that I really couldn’t help think of him in the TV series the entire time I was watching this movie.

  2. As you might guess, I adore Brideshead, too… thanks for the warning. :(

  3. Szerelem – I suppose Charles as a character is more interesting to someone like Waugh (who was a Catholic when he wrote the book) than to us – I tend to see him as a bewildered observer of Marchmain weirdness and beauty, but that’s because I’m entirely unreligious. I suppose if one was, his character arc (the atheism, the eventual move into belief, the fact that he is so fascinating to the Flytes) could be rather fascinating.
    (I loved the little bit in the movie where Sebastian tells his mother Charles is an atheist and she says “an agnostic, surely?”)
    Anthony Andrews was magnificent in the TV series. I think a re-watch is indicated.

    Daisy – I may be being unfair to it; it wasn’t quite as painful as a lot of the reviews I’d read seemed to imply. But…yes, I think you might want to avoid this one!

  4. Aww, is there no love here for badly written earnest teenage vampire love stories? Meyer’s writing style makes me want to pull my eyeballs out true, but its the first time I’ve been entertained by a vampire story in ages.
    I’m not counting Terry Pratchett among these mortals.

  5. Yaya – There is a love of badly written earnest stories in general, certainly, and a love for well written vampire stories. There is a deep affection for Buffy too. I just like my crack, when I read it, to be more entertaining than Meyer can manage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>