Brideshead Revisionism

A collection of the essays and reviews of the late A A Gill has just been published and is reviewed as the Book of the Week in The Sunday Times. The collection includes his restaurant and TV reviews as well as essays on travel and life. The publisher is Weidenfeld and Nicolson and the rather unimaginative title is The Best of A A Gill. Among the collected TV writings is a review of the Granada TV series Brideshead Revisited when it was rerun in 1998.  Gill begins by remembering that when he first watched the series it was “one of those dead-Kennedy moments.” As time went on, the series became one of the “twin totems of television drama”, sharing the title with Jewel in the Crown, another Granada production.

But, for Gill at least, while Jewel has continued to shine, Brideshead had become “utterly, risibly naff, so arch and mannered, so stuffed with appalling performances, with a script that needed an intravenous dose of syrup of figs or just a bullet.” The first problem was that Gill now noticed that the story was “howlingly, retentively, fumblingly, Dorothy-friendly homoerotic…I just wanted to chuck a tapestry scatter cushion at the screen and bellow: ‘For Christ’s sake, snog him and save us having to sit through another umpteenth episode.'” The acting was “utter dross” with the exception of Nicholas Grace as Anthony Blanche and John Gielgud as Charles Ryder’s father. When he wonders why he and his generation fell for the series the first time round, he attributes it partially to expert camerawork and to music that was “potent in a Noel Cowardish cheap way.” But mainly he

puts it down to mass-hysterical avarice. Brideshead wasn’t redolent of the 1920s, it was the zeitgeist of the 1980s. We were all going for the burn, feeling the pain, filling our Filofaxes…so that eventually we could aspire to this ghastly, snobbish, cultureless, tipsy, ivy-clad repressed nirvana without a working class, all claret and cufflinks and cardies and a nanny in every attic…Today, Brideshead looks disturbingly like syrup coloured perspiring dreams.”

Another new book is by novelist Jonathan Coe and is entitled The Broken Mirror. This is not a novel, however, but an 81-page “fable” with illustrations. The review in The Arts by Matthew Wright opens with this:

Novelist Jonathan Coe has, for some time, been assuming the role of an Evelyn Waugh of the left. Brilliant early comedies about education, journalism, and power have made way for longer, deeper, but arguably somewhat lugubrious, almost mystical investigations into lost, neglected people and places. With The Broken Mirror, Coe revisits many of these themes, but in the form of a tiny, poignant, crystalline fable.

The review discusses the early books such as What a Carve Up and The Rotters’ Club which are compared to early Waugh satires, but Coe’s later works, a few of which are mentioned, hardly bear comparison with Waugh’s better late fiction such as The Loved One, Sword of Honour or Pinfold. The reviewer seems to hope for a satircal revival in Coe’s future output.

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