‘Brideshead Revisited’ Revisited

I have just wallowed in the indulgence of watching the whole 1981 television production of ‘Brideshead Revisited ‘ courtesy of my Lovefilm subscription.  It’s 11 episodes, a total of 12 hours of drama, for a novel which is of only average length.  It has stood the test of time very well, I thought.  I was as engaged in it as I’ve ever been in the comfort of a DVD box set issued in more recent times.

I don’t think I can have watched the series when it was first broadcast, as I didn’t have a television in 1981, but I have seen it before, so assume it must have been repeated.  There are a couple of things which distinguish it clearly as not made recently.

The first is its leisurely pace, whole sequences just follow Jeremy Irons as he walks across the lawn or round the quad.  It is hard to imagine anything made now taking so much time to set a tone or to make the audience wait so long for the next action.  The majority of programmes now, are much more concentrated, much more rapid fire, quick cut , get on with it and rush toward the climax.  A novel would never warrant 12 hours of dramatisation, it would be lucky to stretch to 4 episodes.

The second is how young the cast look.  We’re all familiar with their faces still, we know how they’ve really aged, but it’s hard to remember Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons looking really quite that young and fresh (having said that it’s also impossible to believe that they were actually 18 in the first couple of episodes).

The cast also bridges from one generation of actors to another, elderly Laurence Olivier and John Geilgud feature as the older generation.   It occurred to me, watching quite a frail looking Olivier in Lord Marchmain  deathbed scenes that there must come a time in an actor’s career when they keep being asked to die; what would you think about?  Does it make them contemplate their own mortality more than they might otherwise?

The themes of family obligation, the power and difficulty of complying with the moral imperatives of Catholicism, and the terrible consequences of alcoholism and its effects on the people close to the addict are all played out fully in the series. I wonder if the drama of ideas would be given so much time now.

They called it ‘landmark television’, and it had a certain long term effect – I remember going on a tour around Castle Howard and having all the repairs and reconstructions made possible by the money earned from the production.

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1 Comment

  1. I may dust off my treasured box and watch the final disc…deliberately not watched as it was so precious.
    Yes, ‘Brideshead Revisited’ is the King of television drama, perhaps only matched by ‘The Jewel in the Crown’?…and if you re-view that, be sure to end with the little sequel film ‘Staying On’.


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