Friday, February 28, 2014

[TV] Brideshead Revisited

My initial reaction to this was...shock.  I suppose it might be a bit of a disconnect about what I thought I was going to see in the show and the cover vs what it actually was, which is why there was a four week gap between when I saw the first episode and the remaining episodes, but I'm very glad I came back to it.  BridesHead Revisited is a good miniseries and quite worth watching.  It is a 1980's production of the novel of the same name by Evelyn Waugh.

The synopsis is that it is about the friendship of Charles Ryder with the family of his first friend Sebastian and the subsequent doomed romance with Sebastian's sister Julia.  Initial interest in this series was because it helped in the choosing of the name of my wife, but it quickly has its own interest and gravitas.  First, it is interesting because it is the best example I've seen thus far of the secret world of the British (and by extension European) aristocracy at the turn of the 20th century which was shaken by WWI and later upended and devastated by WWII.  When we see the secret gallant world they live in, one cannot help but compare the current second gilded age where the inhabitants of Davos flit and float from country to country, rapidly recouping their stock losses whilst the rest of us scramble for whatever we can find.

But this story is really about Catholicism and the consequences it brings to the family.  The author is staunchly pro catholic and the novel is described as a Catholic apologetic...though I admit I didn't get that.  It seemed more like criticism to me.


So, the marriage of Julia is doomed from the start because her first husband is divorced.  That causes enough problems but later the legitimate romance between Julia and Charles is screwed up by the last minute conversion of her father who has until then despised the church and only converted to be able to marry Julia and Sebastian's mother.  The family is haunted, wracked by guilt they don't deserve and utterly disconnected from reality by their wealth and social status.  Sebastian drinks himself senseless wanting to relive the days of yore and overcome with guilt. Towards the end, Julia and their creepy younger sister retire to the holy lands, and Sebastian drinks himself to death in a monastery.  The eldest son is disinherited by bringing a priest to convert the father, even though the father converts at the last minute and then gives the estate to Julia, who never has any children.

I suppose it is consider apologetic because the story is bookended by a segment from WWII where we see an ass in charge of Charles's regiment clearly because he's also aristocracy, and then later as the troup sets up HQ in the massive and gorgeous house that is Brideshead but being regular grunts they've pretty much ruined whole sections of the house which makes Charles (and everyone else who has watched the show and seen what the house was) sad.

I suppose the reason it is consider apologetic is that at the very end, the chapel is there for the lost troupes.  So all of the suffering of this family, and the hyper holiness of the mother who made her children suffer neurosis and also made a chapel with no priest be there for a bunch of soldiers who needed it, somehow in God's mysterious way made God an asshole...I guess that could be seen as an apologetic?  I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder as is Holiness...

Still, the cast is fantastic.  The characters are complicated and glorious to behold even if tragic.  The plot meanders but always comes together chekov shotgun style.  The settings and costumes are incredibly impressive as are the performances.  So I say if you like drama and you like the oughts of the 20th century, watch this series.

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