Brideshead and Beatles

A feature length article about the making of the 1981  Brideshead Revisited TV series appears in the Sunday Post (Dundee). This is by John Macleod and is entitled “Brideshead Recelebrated”. It is, indeed, another celebration of that event’s 40th anniversary. After a discussion of the generally low cultural level of British network TV in the 1970s and how Granada stole the march on BBC over the Brideshead adaptation, the article addresses the extraordinary production problems that had to be overcome:

The show was going to be expensive to make and, in an era dominated by coarse, gritty, contemporary urban drama, would the public really want this fey period-piece? Michael Lindsay-Hogg has never forgotten the day, in the high summer of 1978, when Derek Granger asked him round for a drink. “Look,” he said, “Evelyn Waugh. Brideshead Revisited. Have you ever read it?…well, the thing is, Granada’s going to do it for television. I’m producing. Do you want to direct it?”

There followed eight months of casting, costuming, and wrestling with a central problem – a script commissioned at no small cost from John Mortimer.It was, they feared, too flip, too thin and, bravely, they binned it. Granger and his team returned to the novel, mining it wholesale – 95% of all the dialogue in the drama is by Evelyn Waugh. Yet Mortimer kept the fee, the screen-credit, and was even nominated for an Emmy.

Then, in August 1979, Jeremy Irons – who, as Charles Ryder, appears in almost every scene – was whipped away to make The French Lieutenant’s Woman, even as technical unions went on strike and effectively shut down ITV till the end of October. Granger’s shooting schedule, with all principal photography to be in the can by New Year 1980, was blown apart.Worse, Lindsay-Hogg – who, as the director of Beatles documentary Let It Be can be seen in Peter Jackson’s revelatory Fab Four series Get Back – was contracted to direct a film in the spring of 1980. There was no way out of it and, gutted, he had to walk away from Brideshead. To widespread alarm, the mantle fell on Charles Sturridge. He was tireless, charming and had most original ideas – but the new director was only 28 and had never shot anything more demanding than a few episodes of Crown Court and Coronation Street.

“My God, it’s a schoolboy,” gasped Nickolas Grace, who plays the affected and stuttering Anthony Blanche.

“Don’t worry,” Jeremy Irons assured Phoebe Nicholls, cast as Cordelia. “If he’s not what he’s cracked up to be, we’ll just get rid of him.”

“The actors thought I was part of an insurance scam,” Sturridge later, ruefully remarked, “and my inexperience would cause the production to fall through.”

But he won their confidence – and, as for Phoebe Nicholls, in 1985 she married him. Their son, Tom Sturridge, is a noted actor. As it turned out, there was blessing in this hiatus. For one, Granger finally convinced Granada chief executive David Plowright that six hours of screen time could never do justice to the novel. His boss took the gamble: the drama was extended to 12 hours and with a budget to match…

The article continues with descriptions of the story and how it was adapted. This is followed by a detailed discussion of the critical reception of the production in both the British and American markets and concludes with this:

…Brideshead Revisited, Michael Lindsay-Hogg concludes, is “concerned not with costumed nostalgia or cliff-hangers or audience-grabbing surprises but with how life changes, how the dreams of youth alter and, in time, become a sterner reality.”

Charles Sturridge looks back gratefully. “The combination of Granada’s stubbornness, Derek’s confidence, a brilliant cast and my own unlikely mix of innocence and experience allowed something rarer. We got to make exactly what we thought.”

But, really, “what distinguishes Brideshead is its sensitive ability to translate the novel’s tone of wistfulness and regret to the screen,” concluded Time Magazine. “Brideshead took a novel and made it into a poem.”

The Sunday Post article has been posted on PressReader.com and can be viewed at this link.

Lindsay-Hogg is also interviewed by Casey Seiler in a recent issue of the Times-Union newspaper in Albany, NY. He now lives just south of Albany in Hudson, NY. That interview relates more to his earlier involvement with the 1969 Beatle’s film Let It Be which is mentioned in the Sunday Post article. That production was also plagued by problems not directly related to the actual making of the film itself:

Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary ended up a victim of the ex-Beatles’ mixed feelings about the project, which captured the escalating tensions within the band — including but not limited to guitarist George Harrison’s efforts to stake out a larger role as a songwriter. At one point, Harrison quietly quits the band for several weeks, and then returns. The project was also complicated by financial disputes within Apple Corps Ltd., the Beatles’ company, as Paul McCartney began to lose confidence in the leadership of the band’s imposing new manager Allen Klein.

“So we have a movie which was shot before they broke up, and then was put on the shelf for a while for a lot of internal reasons,” said Lindsay-Hogg, who began directing the Beatles’ video clips with “Paperback Writer” in 1966. “And then it’s released when they’re broken up — and everyone thinks, ‘Oh, it’s the breakup movie. This is what we’ve been having nightmares about for such a long time: Mommy and Daddy are broken up.’ And so it was regarded as this kind of slightly soiled remnant of what had been a glorious four or five years when the Beatles had taken over the world.”

The “Let It Be” film was ultimately pulled from release, and in recent decades has circulated primarily in bootlegs and ancient VHS tapes. “It was slightly put under the carpet by Apple,” Lindsay-Hogg said.

The Let It Be filming forms much of the story in the Peter Jackson streaming series Get Back now appearing on the Disney+ channel. Lindsay-Hogg also explains his involvement in that production in the Times-Union article.

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