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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Religious tensions come to a head in historical drama

Published: September 19, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

How much does religion impact your daily life? Does it effect whom you marry? How you feel about your family members and friends?

This summer’s Brideshead Revisited explored those and other questions during its two hour span. The little-known but well received film was incredibly engaging and left its audience deep in thought.

Brideshead explores Catholicism and the effects it can have on relationships between family members, lovers, and even friends.

Set in the pre World War II era, the film focuses on the life of Charles Rider (played impeccably by Matthew Goode) as he meets and becomes entangled with the noble Marchmain family.

He first meets the Marchmain boy Sebastian (Ben Whishaw) during his first year at Oxford. Charles becomes quite close with Sebastian; so close in fact, you could even say intimate. One day Sebastian brings Charles to see his family’s house, Brideshead.

During this visit, Charles, to Sebastian’s dismay, meets Sebastian’s mother, Lady Marchmain (played fantastically by Emma Thompson) and his sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell).

At this point Charles, as well as the viewer, first sees the strict Catholic upbringing that Sebastian had. Lady Marchmain is clearly a tough woman whose good opinion must be fought for. The children seem to both love and fear her at the same time.

Soon, Sebastian and Charles go back to school. Once on summer holidays, however, Charles is soon summoned back to Brideshead when Sebastian writes to him telling him that he has been injured.

Charles returns to Brideshead, and now gets an even more comprehensive view of the family. The total silence at the family dinner table when Charles announces his atheistic beliefs alone shows the accepting nature of the family.

The summer appears to be going swimmingly until Julia receives a letter from Lord Marchmain asking she and her brother to join him in Venice for some of the holiday.

Sebastian of course brings Charles and is let in on the family secret. Lord Marchmain (Geoffrey Wilkinson) is not in Venice on business but is there living with his mistress Cara (Greta Scacchi).

It is this visit to Venice that changes the course of Charles’ life forever. He discovers his true desires and is then faced with the consequences of them.

The film is truly fascinating due to its incredible character development and involvement as well as the questions it raises. The audience watches Lady Marchmain’s unwavering commitment to what she believes being a good Catholic entails and is able to see the impact this kind of upbringing has on her children.

This is a rare insight into family dynamics and, at times, the audience can feel like it’s seeing something so completely private and privileged that it can be a bit uncomfortable.

The film is intense, and its discussion of Catholicism’s different manifestations is fascinating. The movie is not light-hearted and is certainly not for everyone. The kind of person who would love this film is someone who enjoys a dialogue on religion and doesn’t mind a plot that focuses less on action and far more on character development.

Another fabulous aspect of the film is the way the audience feels about the characters in it.

There are very few redeeming features in these characters and it is easy to find yourself disliking and even hating them.

I love films that show the characters for who they are and not for who the audience would want them to be. Brideshead Revisited is a brave film that covers controversial material in a tasteful and incredibly interesting way.

I would definitely recommend the film to those who think they might be interested in it.