"If you were to ask me know who I am, I wouldn't be able to tell you." So says Charles Ryder at the start of this, what I thought was the 57th adaptation of the Evelyn Waugh novel but is in fact the first big screen transfer. Well as opening lines go its a pretty fucking good one and in my recent fragile minded state set me up to what I hoped would be a deep character study of a man unsure of who the hell he is. Unfortunately what turned up on the screen was a lame unrequited love story that finally caused me to use the word boring to describe a period drama. Something I try desperately not to do.
On his first day at Oxford University Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) befriends Sebastian Flyte (Ben 'Always be Pingu to me' Whishaw) after the latter pukes through the formers window. When proper toff Seb takes wannabe toff Charles to his big ol house in the country, Brideshead, Charles begins to fall in love with the place. And while he's not adverse to getting pissed, snogging and skinny dipping with the obviously gay, obviously infatuated Sebastian, Charles is also not adverse to trying to fuck his sister.
Which is where the film lost me because Matthew Goode does a fine job in making Charles Ryder an extremely sympathetic character in the beginning. When he's being attacked by Sebastians snobby friends he's quite fragile and likeable. At no point does it seem like he's that bothered by the idea of jumping up a class, he's just having some fun with a friend who happens to be well-off enough to drink as a profession. But his decisions later on seem like an uncaring arse who would fuck anyone over to get what he wants.
As the film tries to justify these actions by making his wife a bitch and Sebastian a mess it loses Charles character any clarity. If it just let him be a guy who doesn't always get things right and someone who, really, doesn't know who he is it could have been a lot stronger especially given the qualiy of actors involved. With the crazy Catholicism obessesed mom in the form of Emma Thompson and an aloof father figure in Gambon, the dysfunctional Flyte family could well end up on a 1930's Trisha. But as with Trisha I'd really rather watch something else.