Brideshead People in Telegraph

Today’s Daily Telegraph contains a discussion (not quite a review) of the theatrical version of Brideshead Revisited that opened last week in York. This is in an article by Rupert Christiansen entitled: “What became of the real people who inspired Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited┬á?” He begins by focusing on the differences in the character of Sebastian as cast in the play and in the 1981 TV film:

Most striking – and probably controversial – will be the decision of [Damian Cruden, the play’s director] to cast Christopher Simpson as Sebastian. An olive-skinned 41-year-old of Irish-Greek-Rwandan descent best known for his role as Karim in the film adaptation of Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane, Simpson would, on paper, be nobody’s obvious idea of this iconic character, but Cruden is delighted with his choice.”…First of all, I should say that Christopher is just a terrific actor, and he certainly doesn’t present himself like a standard 41-year-old. In fact, he’s got this Peter Pan quality that matches Sebastian’s personality perfectly. And remember the novel doesn’t only tell us about him as an undergraduate – when it ends, he must be well into his 40s.”

Christiansen goes on to note that many of the characters are sourced from people Waugh knew. As to the source of Sebastian┬áFlyte,┬áChrstiansen firstly cites him┬áto Hugh Lygon. But he goes a bit astray by asserting that Hugh Lygon carried a teddy bear around Oxford–that bit of Sebastian is usually assumed to have come from John Betjeman. Christiansen goes on to discuss:

… a┬ácloser source for Sebastian,…the poignant figure of Alastair Graham. The son of a baronet, fervently Catholic and under the spell of his widowed mother, he was considered as adorable as he was aimless and alcoholic (a pattern emerges here).┬áIn his reticent autobiography A Little Learning, Waugh describes him only in passing as “the friend of my heart”, under the pseudonym of Hamish Lennox.

…But what happened to Alastair Graham doesn’t echo Sebastian’s fate.┬áAfter years of drifting round the Levant, he returned to England and ended his life in a village on the Welsh Borders. When the writer Duncan Fallowell tracked him down, he was a grumpy recluse, “in mortal fear of exposure”…He died in 1982, forgotten yet immortalised, and now to be reimagined once more on stage.

Alastair’s Catholicism was voluntary, since he converted in 1924, unlike Sebastian’s, who was born into that faith and had no choice in the matter. So, it seems unlikely that religion entered┬ámuch, if at all, into Alastair’s┬áselection as a character model.

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