It’s difficult to compare this movie to the novel it’s based off of when I’ve never read it. But if the film is similar to the book, I think that I’ll probably pass on it (no offense to Evelyn Waugh). There is so much content shoved into this 1 hour and 40 minute film, I never really quite understood what direction director Julian Jarrold wanted to go.
The first third of the film was incestuously and erotically charged (a la The Dreamers by Bernardo Bertolucci). The story follows Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) as he begins his studies at Oxford. While there, he becomes friends with the flaming homosexual Sebastian (played ever so creepily by Ben Whishaw), who happens to be royalty, and the son of Lady Marchmain (the wickedly talented Emma Thompson who may have, with this performance, joined the ranks of royal British actresses like Judi Dench and Helen Mirren). Sebastian has a sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell). Between the two siblings is something odd, and disturbing. While Ryder experiments with Sebastian, he also becomes involved with Julia. And it’s really really weird.
Then the movie quickly changes pace (don’t take this to mean the pacing is quick, it’s not, it’s very very slow). It’s as if Evelyn Waugh decided to stop writing about homoerotic skinny dipping in the estate’s pond, and decides to pontificate on her feelings about the church… You see, Ryder is an atheist (no, not agnostic, atheist) who is living in sin with a man, but wants to marry Julia, which Lady Marchmain, the extremely pious and self-righteous Catholic simply can’t put up with.
As the rest of the plot unfolds, the piousness of Lady Marchmain and her children’s fear of disappointing her ruin life after life, and there’s sub-plot after sub-plot that just sort of loses the viewer. Is this about sex (can it really be about sex with a PG-13 rating)? Is it about the evils of the Church of England and Catholicism? Is it about something deeper? I can’t tell!
It’s not that the movie isn’t beautiful. Filming locations are remarkable, giving it such a grandiose, and beautiful feel, that you can’t help but be transported back into that time. The real pride of the film is in the acting. Emma Thompson (as mentioned before) steals the show and every scene she’s in. The younger actors shine as well. Matthew Goode, who has shown us his talents in bigger films like Woody Allen’s Match Point, and lesser known indies like The Lookout, proves he can carry a film as the leading man.
While this movie isn’t fantastic, I’d suggest a viewing, given the fact the pickin’s are kind of slim right now. Maybe Waugh fans will catch lots of meaning that I managed to miss. Do watch the trailer though, it’s great!