Brideshead Revisited

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Opens: Friday, July 25 (Miramax).

The Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning subject of the acclaimed 11-part 1981 miniseries starring Jeremy Irons, Evelyn Waugh's acclaimed examination of class, Catholicism and the pursuit of individualism has now been turned into a stand-alone feature by the director of "Becoming Jane."
 
So, is "Brideshead" worth revisiting?
 
On the affirmative side, a solid cast and striking production values definitely add Merchant Ivory-worthy luster.
 
But in distilling the 330-page novel into a two-hour film, director Julian Jarrold, along with screenwriters Andrew Davies ("Bridget Jones's Diary") and Jeremy Brock ("The Last King of Scotland"), have taken some liberties with the material that will likely upset purists and leave others feeling merely unsatisfied.
 
Although it has its involving moments, the watered-down Waugh fails to make any kind of lasting connection, giving this midsummer counterprogramr just a moderate shot of scoring with the Brit Lit crowd.
 
At least on the surface, Matthew Goode ("Match Point") makes for a convincing Charles Ryder, the highly impressionable middle-class atheist who gets in tight with the aristocratic and very Catholic Marchmain family -- first through his close friendship with the swishy Sebastian (Ben Whishaw) and then via a considerably more passionate arrangement with his spirited sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell).
 
Maybe it's because Ryder is such a reactive character through so much of the film that when he makes the transition from passive observer to decisive man of action in the third act, it proves to be an unconvincing transformation.
 
There's still something hollow at the core of Goode's performance and the film as a whole that makes it hard to embrace.
 
Whishaw and Atwell fare better in their corners of this curious triangle, though this edition of "Brideshead Revisited" belongs to Emma Thompson, who, as the Marchmain's coolly controlling matriarch, capably manages to combine a staunch religious morality with a tangible charm and trace of vulnerability.
 
She instills the heart and soul that the rest of this production seems to have lost somewhere along the way to the big screen.  
 
Production: Miramax Films, U.K. Film Council, BBC Films, HanWay Films, 2 Entertain, Screen Yorkshire, Ecosse Films.
Cast: Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Hayley Atwell, Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon. Director: Julian Jarrold. Screenwriters: Andrew Davies, Jeremy Brock. Producers: Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae, Kevin Loader. Executive producers: David M. Thompson, Nicole Finnan, Tim Haslam, Hugo Heppell. Director of photography: Jess Hall. Production designer: Alice Normington. Music: Adrian Johnston. Costume designer: Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh. Editor: Chris Gill.
Rated PG-13, 120 minutes.

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