Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
United Kingdom, 2008. Ecosse Films, BBC Films, UK Film Council, 2 Entertain, Screen Yorkshire, Brideshead Films, HanWay Films, Mestiere Cinema, Zak Productions. Screenplay by Andrew Davies, Jeremy Brock, based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh. Cinematography by Jess Hall. Produced by Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae, Kevin Loader. Music by Adrian Johnston. Production Design by Alice Normington. Costume Design by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh. Film Editing by Chris Gill.
Nostalgia for the innocent days of youth tinges every frame of this sumptuous period piece adapted from the novel by Evelyn Waugh. Previously filmed as a highly successful eight-hour BBC miniseries with Jeremy Irons in 1981, this latest adaptation has Matthew Goode as a middle-class student studying at 1920s Oxford who befriends a wildly eccentric Ben Whishaw and his circle of majorly homo friends.
Goode has a romantic connection with Whishaw that becomes a passion when he visits the boy’s palatial, titular estate, sees his mysteriously sexy sister (Hayley Atwell) and develops a need to become accepted by people with titles.
Naturally, the people who have those titles are desperate to throw them away, providing no end of drama when Goode finds himself trapped emotionally between the two siblings and their similar desires. He is further drawn into this increasingly weird family by the pair’s fanatically religious mother (a marvelously glacial Emma Thompson) when she enlists this outsider to provide a straightening influence on her wayward son.
The story isn’t rich enough for a movie this grand, partly the result of compressing so detailed a novel into the regular feature format and partly because Waugh’s reserved English aristocrats are a bit too repressed to jump off the screen with any notable fire.
That said, it’s a highly respectable achievement, buoyed by sturdy direction and incredible performances (did I mention that Thompson is outstanding?), with the scenes at Oxford and their wing back chairs, fireplaces and stone archways giving me a major boner.