Brideshead Revisited

Anita is a Jeremy Irons fan (who isn’t?) but has never watched Brideshead Revisited, the 1981 TV serial which made him a star and became something of a benchmark for quality British TV serials in the ’80s, along with Edge of Darkness, The Singing Detective and a few other small-screen blockbusters which have recently been remade into concise but awful movies starring Americans.

I was determined not to get sucked back into Brideshead – the first few episodes, especially the 100 minute premiere, are exceptional, and have inspired several generations of university students to ponce about with floppy hair and a teddy bear, like the anti-Rocky Horror, bless. After that it gets a bit murky… the book by Evelyn Waugh is only 330 pages, while the entire series is a bum-numbing 11 hours long. By comparison, if you filmed Harry Potter at the same rate it would be up to Part 30 before Neville got his own Sensemayá moment. As a basic rule of thumb, the film of a book shouldn’t take longer to get through than the original book.

Anyway, we’ve watched the first two episodes, and may well continue. The last time I watched it was in Moscow on videotape in 1987, and it looks great on DVD, with only a few technical wobbles betraying its TV budget origins. The older stars (especially a sleepwalking Gielgud and Olivier) were marketed more strongly than the younger unknowns, and ironically the same thing seemed to happen with the 2008 film adaptation, with Emma Thompson’s face everywhere. I haven’t watched the film yet, but I might after finishing the TV series, like finishing a big dinner with an expensive sherry that isn’t as nice.

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