I fearlessly predict …
That the new BRIDESHEAD REVISITED movie will suck pretty hard.
We can already be morally certain that it will be a vulgar reduction of Sebastian in ways designed to pander to contemporary narrowness and sex obsession. Actor Ben Whishaw bluntly says he has played Sebastian as a gay person, in today’s parlance, because he and the others involved in the film needed to give the let’s-pat-him-on-the-head-since-he-can’t-have-been-expected-to-know-better-because-of-the-times treatment to Evelyn Waugh (as in principle any contemporary artiste could have to any other DWEM who needs to be pat on the head since he can’t have been expected to know better because of the times), and so they helpfully filled in the gaps left unfilled by his insufficient enlightenment. The money quotes (oops) from Whishaw:
“Sebastian knows what his nature is and believes he’s going to hell” …
The film … aims to speak to a new generation, in part by portraying Sebastian as unquestionably gay. Waugh left Sebastian’s sexuality somewhat ambiguous, and purists may balk at the inclusion of a kiss between Sebastian and Charles Ryder, his school chum and the story’s narrator (played by Matthew Goode). “The kiss was quite a bone of contention,” says Whishaw of discussions on the set. “But Waugh said as much as he could at the time he was writing [the novel], and it seems fairly clear-cut. He’s a gay character.”
Except that making Charles explicitly gay is exactly what will NOT make this film “speak to a new generation.” Or to be more precise, making Charles explicitly gay guarantees that this film only be able to tell a new generation what it already believes and thus (at least implicitly) congratulate it for doing so.
In this New York Times piece, we also get my favorite (sic) religious-usage bugbear, the F-word, the ritual incantation of which shows co-writer Jeremy Brock to be a complete religious illiterate:
“In that tug between individual freedom and fundamentalist religion, there’s a story that’s apposite for our time,” Mr. Brock said. “In the modern age that’s something we’re all dealing with.”
An important divergence in tone from Waugh’s novel, Mr. Jarrold said, comes in the closing scene, when Charles — now back at Brideshead during World War II — talks to Lieutenant Hooper, a fellow soldier who has a rough accent and the forthright views of a modern man unimpressed by the aristocracy. How to portray him led to long discussions about the way that Waugh “is sometimes profoundly undemocratic” and disdainful of Hooper and what he represents, Mr. Jerrold said.
In the book Hooper is “described as a traveling salesman with a wet handshake,” he said. “But he’s the future of England, and the hope of the 1945 generation, and we’ve put a positive spin on him.”
Does one laugh or cry? This pitch-perfect reading from the Contemporary Secularist Catechism would be funny if the homilist weren’t overseeing the adaptation of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED. As if it were impossible to be pessimistic about “the future of England”; as if being “profoundly undemocratic” is something both automatically problematic yet not disqualifying for adapting the novel in the first place; and as if Waugh couldn’t have something (anything) more important on his mind than nationalism.
Honestly, if these are the attitudes one wishes to take, what is the point of old literature at all — whether for reading or making movies out of? How could an old book ever teach (generic) you that what you now think is wrong? An old book can never bring its perspective to bear upon ours, only be judged by ours (and thus inevitably be found wanting, since we today are the measuring stick for judging on any difference).
And if the trailer is anything reliable …
BRIDESHEAD REVISITED AGAIN will be quite the rewrite on other grounds too. As a friend wrote to me recently, the trailer is selling something else:
In the case of Brideshead the themes of the book give an unfaithful filmmaker the chance to make all sorts of “important points” about “Catholicism, classism, and heterosexualism.” … But even if the adaptation is [unfaithful] surely it’s not a suspense thriller in which Lady Marchmain pops out of a closet in the final scene and chases Charles across the estate as seems to be implied by the score playing in the background of the trailer.
Yep, Mark … whatever might be said of the final film, **that** trailer is selling a Lady Marchmain who is a cross between Lady Macbeth and Mommie Dearest (I also love the dropped rosary beads, the vampy apple-eating, the absence of a teddy bear, and how the answer to the actual meaning of “I take it you’re not one of us” is dropped).