Brideshead Floribundum

Waugh’s most popular book Brideshead Revisited seems to be getting a lot of attention lately. Much, but not all of this is directed to prior and projected film and TV adaptations:

The Spectator’s supplement Spectator Life several weeks ago posted an article about the BBC’s propensity to rely on remaking previous successful programs rather than trying something new. This is written by Steven Arnell. Among the remakes he considered was this one:

…this brings us to the upcoming Brideshead Revisited remake. After the original ITV series and the 2008 film, you would think the last thing Brideshead Revisited needed was more revisiting. Possibly the Corporation is still miffed that it was ITV (Granada) that made the 1981 series and that such a prestigious show really should have been a BBC production. This kind of logic appeared to be the reason for their resurrection of Upstairs Downstairs (2010-12) to steal some of Downton Abbey’s thunder, itself a show that some at the Beeb felt was more of a fit with BBC1.

In the case of Brideshead I can’t think of a show less desirous of a remake. If you recall, the cast of the original series was stellar: it included leads Jeremy Irons (Charles), Anthony Andrews (Sebastian) and Diana Quick (Julia), together with a supporting company featuring Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, StĂ©phane Audran, John Le Mesurier, Kenneth Cranham and Jane Asher. Even today, it would be difficult to assemble a better ensemble of actors. The failed 2008 movie (which was also co-produced by BBC Films) should have proved the point conclusively.

The original Brideshead took two years to film and had a production budget of £10 million, then a vast sum, dwarfing all other UK drama series at the time and for a good few years afterwards. That is until BBC1’s dire biopic (Cecil) Rhodes in 1996, which cost a similar amount for five hours less screen time and was justly shunned by viewers.

If BBC Studios is devoting similar dedication to the new Brideshead adaptation, I’d wager that licence fee payers could be on the hook for at least £20 million, with streamers or the likes of HBO presumably making up the rest.  And all the while ITV’s entire 13-hour serialisation of Brideshead Revisited is currently available free to view on YouTube – yet another reason for the BBC to resist remaking the show.

If they do partner with a streamer, one can only hope that BBC negotiators don’t botch the deal in the way they did with the expensive fantasy drama Good Omens back in 2019. Co-producer Amazon Prime debuted the show in UK May that year, hoovering up all the publicity, whilst BBC2 scheduled it nine months later across Jan-Feb 2020, to a predictably lacklustre 1.48m average audience.

If the BBC really want to remake an Evelyn Waugh novel, I [wonder] why not the author’s Sword of Honour trilogy, which was last adapted in 2001 by Channel 4 in far too condensed mini-series format, with a badly miscast Daniel Craig, who was far too macho to play mopey toff Guy Crouchback? [Links in original]

— Waugh’s book became an issue (sort of) in the recent Virginia gubernatorial  election. The winning candidate (Glenn Youngkin, a Republican) had made an issue of the propriety of the books being recommended for reading by public school children. This was explained in a Washington Post opinion article before the election:

…you may remember the Glenn Youngkin commercial starring the mother who was trying to stop “Beloved” from being taught in her senior son’s AP English class on the grounds that he thought it was “disgusting and gross” and “gave up on it.” Anyway, he supported that kind of parental control over the curriculum, so we’ve had to tweak just a couple of things!

She then, in jest, offers several examples of how reading lists might have to change if Youngkin were elected (which he was). Here is an excerpt from her list of deletions:

“The Odyssey” mutilation and abuse of alcohol, blood drinking

“Brideshead Revisited” not sure what’s going on with that teddy bear; house named after something that should be saved for marriage

“The Handmaid’s Tale” everything about book was fine except its classification as ‘dystopia’

“The Catcher in the Rye” anti-Ronald Reagan somehow though we’re not sure how

“The Importance of Being Earnest” includes a disturbing scene where a baby is abandoned in a train station in a handbag and the people in the play regard this as the subject of mirth

“Candide” buttock cannibalism

“Don Quixote” makes fun of somebody for attacking a wind-or-solar-based energy source

“Great Expectations” convict presented sympathetically

“Les Miserables” see above

“King Lear” violence and it’s suggested that there are scenarios where parents actually do not know best

“The Sun Also Rises” offensive to flat-Earthers

“Death of a Salesman” features a White man to whom attention is not paid… etc.

–The Irish radio network RTÉ recently posted a recording of poet-broadcaster Karen J McDonnell’s remembrance of the original 1981 transmission of the Granada TV adaptation of Brideshead. You can hear this 5 minute broadcast from last Sunday (31 October) at this link.

–The TV streaming website recommends the 50 best shows available for streaming on Amazon Prime. Here is No 41 on their list:

It was almost 40 years ago when the BBC miniseries Brideshead Revisited captivated audiences with its portrayal of early 20th century British aristocracy and Catholic guilt. The 11-hour series earned an Emmy for the late Laurence Olivier and catapulted Jeremy Irons into a successful, Oscar-winning career. Based on the popular novel by Evelyn Waugh, when middle-class freshman and aspiring artist Charles (Irons) arrives to Oxford, he is befriended by the rich, spoiled party boy Sebastian (Anthony Andrews) who soon falls in love with Charles and introduces him to his severely dysfunctional upper-class family living in the grand estate of Brideshead. As their relationship grows so does Charles’ infatuation with Sebastian’s sister Julia (Diana Quick). But the real struggle comes from the siblings’ mother (Phoebe Nicholls) [sic] who is determined to guide her children into their proper places as Catholic royalty, much to the dismay of atheist Charles. A beautifully engrossing soap opera filled with a higher caste of desperate souls, Brideshead is always worth revisiting. —Tim Basham

Looks like an editorial slip-up made Phoebe Nicholls the actress that played Lady Marchmain. She of course was Cordelia, one of the siblings, while Claire Bloom played her mother.

–The Daily Mail asked writer Patricia Nicol to recommend the best books on universities as a new group of students is settling in. Here’s the beginning of her article:

Now that Freshers’ weeks are a blurry memory, I do hope this year’s intake of students is settling down to some sort of normal university life. In school, you are told that university will be the reward for hard work: The chance to pursue a vocation or study a subject you (hopefully) love among like-minded peers. There is an expectation that it will be fun, too.

But fun did not seem most students’ foremost experience of the past academic year. There were tales of kids who had only just left home being confined to halls of residence with inadequate food supplies. At many places, the provision of online lecturing sounded dire for £9,000-a-year fees.

Of course, the whole world was wrong-footed by Covid, and some universities have dealt with the challenges better than others. Young relatives of mine who started last autumn, hoping for a different freshers experience, do not regret going. It’s better than a year at home waiting for adult life to start.

Novels such as Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and Sally Rooney’s Normal People highlight how university should be an exciting time.

Nicol is not the first person to link these two books. See previous post.  And then there’s this in the Daily Telegraph from an article by Boudicca Fox-Leonard:

As a teenager I immersed myself in the classics: Austen, Eliot, Waugh. As I thumbed through Brideshead Revisited, immersed in a world of which I had no connection or experience, I naturally assumed that one day I’d write my own novel of grand importance. It didn’t matter that I didn’t, and still don’t, have anything particularly penetrating to say (this article excepting), I just sort of assumed it would happen, because, what else was the point of being alive if not to set it alight? […] But at the age of 37 I recognise I am no Zadie Smith, or Jonathan Franzen. Heck, I’m not even Sally Rooney, who is making a career out of holding a mirror up to millennials’ obsession with their own uniqueness.


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