An unnecessary 'Revisit'

Another thing to make you feel old: It's been more than a quarter century since PBS broadcast its 11-hour adaptation of "Brideshead Revisited."

The show aired way back in the early 1980s, the heydey of the miniseries, and diverted audiences with its devotion to Evelyn Waugh's novel of crumbling British aristocracy, and with a then-groundbreaking story of a man (the role made Jeremy Irons a star) who becomes romantically involved with a brother AND a sister.

The highly regarded miniseries left little room for improvement, especially within the constraints of a two-hour running time, but a new "Brideshead" revisits Waugh's novel nonetheless.

This one stars Matthew Goode as Charles Ryder, the middle class kid who hits Oxford, meets aristocrat Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw), and becomes infatuated -- with Sebastian's sophistication, and with his spectacular ancestral estate, Brideshead.

The relationship remains platonic - to Sebastian's chagrin - as the two bond during summers at Brideshead and winters at school. In Waugh's novel, it's some years before Charles finally falls in love - with Sebastian's sister Julia.

Here, the filmmakers push Julia (Hayley Atwell) into the story much earlier, a bold and probably necessary move (approved by Waugh's estate) given the time limits of feature film.

As a narrative gambit, it makes sense, but the competitive love triangle it yields plays out as surprisingly stuffy and bloodless, and casting could be part of the problem.

One of the keys to Ryder's character is his own unacknowledged ambition - the way he uses his charm to ingratiate himself into a world he covets, ensnaring first brother and then sister in problematic relationships.

This adds darker shades to Ryder's orbit of the Flytes, and implicates him as, possibly, a cad - a color Jeremy Irons could deliver in 50 shades.

Goode is handsome, looks swell in a sweater vest and scarf, but doesn't have the inner Von Bulow that was evident in Irons even in 1981. Of course, Waugh further complicated matters by making the Flytes devoutly Catholic and Ryder a combative atheist - making him, eventually, an enemy of Sebastian and Julia's domineering mother (Emma Thompson).

The movie follows Waugh's inquiry into religious faith with a good, big scene - of Ryder standing resentfully by as the family tries to persuade rogue patriarch (Michael Gambon) to confess on his deathbed.

It's a bit late in the game, though, for "Brideshead" to finally find its footing. *