Brideshead Revisited

Just finished the DVDs from the 1981 miniseries and the novel.

Felt inspired to search out the scenes that dealt with the Catholicism of the Flyte family and Charles Ryder’s reactions. A series of reading selections here:

If you already know the story, perhaps this focus will bring back some good memories. If you haven’t, perhaps it will help you invest the time and effort into watching/reading this classic. It has a surprising number of fine reflections on Catholicism, both in the character portrayals and in exchanges between the characters.


I watched this movie about a month ago. It was kind of long and I was surprised by the gay overtones in the beginning. I was almost put off altogether but decided to watch the second episode and was completely hooked after that! The characters were really well done and so was the acting. Jeremy Irons was particularly good and John Gielgud was hilarious as his father. The story managed to pack in a lot of depth and development and I found myself caring about what happened to the people involved. Yes there were lots of Catholic references. It was interesting to get a British perspective on our faith.
There was also a whole lot of smoking and drinking going on! Seems like they all should have been hung over all the time and coughing like crazy.:smiley:

I noticed a remake was done recently. I can just imagine all the nude scenes and gay sex going on, probably unwatchable – the 1981 miniseries was pretty tame I thought and it approached the homosexuality as simply an excess of youth, not as an “orientation” – not at all political. I was thinking the HIV/AIDs crisis was just underway – if I’m not mistaken the first case was diagnosed in 1979.


Maybe I was naive when I read the book in college, but I don’t remember any gay references in it.



The remake was done in 2008 with Emma Thompson as Lady Marchmain. From what I’ve read it pales in comparison to the 80s version and not just because it was made in regular movie format. Here’s a quote from someone on Internet Movie Database about the newer movie:

(This movie is offensive to Catholics, but)" the book was not. It was an examination of the cost paid by the religious, those choosing to be so, in the modern world which had turned against faith. It also looked at the benefits of religion, the value of it. I would not say it was pro catholic or anti catholic. But it was definitely respectful of the religion. The movie, on the other hand, is contemptuous. Where the book looked at the complications of the relgious personality, the movie says, catholics are evil idiots. The moviemakers would not dare to insult any other group in that way. In the end when Diana gives up Charles, the movie made it seem like a neurosis that her mother caused. THey can’t conceive of a time when people took adultery and sin seriously. And of course, they can’t conceive of a time when people refrained from satisfying their appetites. Even if the moviemakers did not agree, they should have been more respectful of the work that they were adapting. But the moviemakers did not dare to totally do away with what the book actually says. So in the end, the dying man makes the sign of the cross."

I have to say that you’ve inspired me, djeter to read the book. I read some of the quotes of your original post and realized I was missing out by not reading the story as it was written. I was out this afternoon and managed to get a copy at HalfPrice books for only $2.48–couldn’t pass up a bargain like that!

It was an era when there really weren’t any gays – let me explain that… Lady Marchmain considers the attraction her son, Sebastian, and Charles Ryder have to be “charming” – a “normal” love, part of growing up, that young boys have for each other. There is no explicit gay sex in the book, although Charles does profess his love for Sebastian. You will find some of the depictions of the characters to be clearly gay however. The 1981 miniseries shows this but the love that Sebastian and Charles have is never portrayed in physical terms.

The modern homosexualist would consider all this to be “in the closet,” but what it effectively does is to give young boys a mulligan on same sex attraction without encouraging a self-identification with homosexuality. It’s a phase they can grow out of and Brideshead Revisited depicts it in this manner.

At least that’s how I interpreted it.


I’m not sure how much I can agree with you there. In the final scene we do see Charles in the chapel kneeling in prayer. And the movie is faithful to the dialogue in the book. Charles in contemptuous/highly critical of the Catholic faith of the Flyte family but they defend it firmly and Julia’s explanation of how she is impacted by sin is memorable and truthful to her faith.

And I loved Sebastian’s defense of his faith (this dialogue is in the movie)

“I suppose they try and make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?”

“Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.”

“But, my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”

“Can’t I?”

“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and ox and the donkey.”

“Oh yes, I believe that It’s a lovely idea”

“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea”

“But I do! That’s how I believe.”

One of the ways I came to my faith was to understand that all the things I found true in literature and poetry were also true in the Gospels. Just because fiction may not be real doesn’t make it untruthful. No only do I find the Gospels real in a non-fiction sense but the truths are true because they are lovely ideas. Chesterton felt the same way here. Scroll down the page till you come to *G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, Jesus And The Parable Of The Lilies Of The Field. *

That quotation there was perhaps the most compelling proof of Jesus’ divinity that I have ever read and there is a genius in his parables that while completely human also shares in the divine – I think Sebastian above is touching upon that above. There is no extended argument with Charles – nothing of the online nastiness we would get today between atheists or agnostics like Charles. Yet Charles is completely shut down. "Surely you don’t make the basis of your faith on something just because its ‘a lovely idea’? YES OF COURSE, proclaims Sebastian. Charles remains a captive of his scientific materialism.

Later Cordelia rebukes Charles in her quiet way. She know Charles loved her brother but he never saw what the superior at the monastery realized about her brother:

"The superior simply said, “I did not think there was anything I could do to help him except pray.” He was a very holy old man and recognized it in others.”


“Oh yes, Charles, that’s what you’ve got to understand about Sebastian."

I recall Dostoevsky also: "I will tell you that I am a child of the century, a child of disbelief and doubt. I will remain so until the grave. How much terrible torture this thirst for faith has cost me and costs me even now which is all the stronger in my soul the more arguments I can find against it. And yet God sends me sometimes instants when I am completely calm. At those instants I love and feel loved by others and it is at those instants that I have shaped for myself a Credo where everything is clear and sacred to me.

This credo is very simple. Here it is: To believe that nothing is more beautiful, profound, sympathetic, reasonable, manly, and perfect than Christ. And I tell myself with a jealous love that not only is there nothing more but there can be nothing more. Even more, if someone proved to me that Christ is outside the truth and that in reality the truth were outside of Christ, then I should prefer to remain with Christ rather than with the truth.”

There is a man who loves the ideas of his faith because they are “lovely ideas.”


I found this scene memorable, also faithfully reproduced in the miniseries:

"Julia said: “Here in the shadow, in the corner of the stair — a minute to say good-bye.”

“So long to say so little.”

“You knew?”

“Since this morning; since before this morning; all this year.”

“I didn’t know till today. Oh, my dear, if you could only understand. Then I could bear to part, or bear it better.** I should say my heart was breaking, if I believed in broken hearts.** I can’t marry you, Charles; I can’t be with you ever again.”

“I know.”

“How can you know?”

“What will you do?”

“Just go on — alone. How can I tell what I shall do? You know the whole of me. You know I’m not one for a life of mourning. I’ve always been bad. Probably I shall be bad again, punished again. But the worse I am, the more I need God. I can’t shut myself out from His mercy. That is what it would mean; starting a life with you, without Him. One can only hope to see one step ahead. But I saw to-day there was one thing forgivable — like things in the schoolroom, so bad they are unpunishable, that only Mummy could deal with — **the bad thing I was on the point of doing, that I’m not quite bad enough to do; to set up a rival good to God’s. **Why should I be allowed to understand that, and not you, Charles? It may be because of Mummy, Nanny, Cordelia, Sebastian — perhaps Bridey and Mrs. Muspratt — keeping my name in their prayers; or it may be a private bargain between me and God, that if I give up this one thing I want so much, however bad I am, He won’t quite despair of me in the end.

“Now we shall both be alone, and I shall have no way of making you understand.”

“I don’t want to make it easier for you,” I said; “I hope your heart may break; but I do understand.”

The avalanche was down, the hillside swept bare behind it; the last echoes died on the white slopes; the new mound glittered and lay still in the silent valley."

Charles does say here “I do understand.” and I think he is beginning to understand. I still think this is a story of his conversion. While he would embrace Julia if she rejects God and takes to her “rival good,” he also knows that this will not happen – has known it all along – perhaps it is one of the reasons why he loves her.

If I were to write a sequel to Brideshead Revisited I would have him meet her again during the war in North Africa somewhere and Julia would realize that Charles has embraced her faith and that he has fully understood her choice of living a celibate life. Perhaps he is living the same life as well, he is divorced after all.

I wonder how many divorced modern Catholics reject remarriage and embrace celibacy because they realize they are “setting up set up a rival good to God’s.” While you say the moviemakers “can’t conceive of a time when people took adultery and sin seriously. And of course, they can’t conceive of a time when people refrained from satisfying their appetites.” In reality, isn’t this everyone?

The accusation of “living in sin” that Bridey makes against Julia, which is portrayed so powerfully in the film, is almost nonexistent in today’s society. That’s not just the filmmakers. Aren’t we all like that? And how many of us see the “holiness” in each other like Cordelia sees in her brother Sebastian?

I think it’s a great movie and one that would make for a great discussion group in an RCIA or young Catholics group. To be perfectly frank, until I went into the book and brought the dialogue out in the open more and thought about it, I missed a great deal of the movie and probably saw what you seem to have seen.


The quote I referrenced was from Internet Movie Database. Apparently that person saw the 2008 version of BR and thought it was anti-Catholic.
I only saw the '81 version and didn’t find it that way. It was refreshing to see a movie where the Catholic viewpoint was respected and not made to seem silly or outdated.
Was your Dostoevsky quote from “The Brothers Karamazov”? I loved that book but it’s been some years since I read it and am not sure if that’s your source. I wish they would do a remake of the Brothers K. Don’t know if you’ve seen the old version of that but it starred Yul Brynner and William Shatner and was pretty good from what I remember but a remake is overdue.

I love the book and the 1981 version - though in that it took a year for them to drink a glass of wine. Waugh was a magnificent novelist and a traditional Roman Catholic. My favorite line in the book was when the younger daughter describes the closing of the Chapel. How the priest came in, removed the host from the tabernacle, popped out the altar stone and blew out the lamp. Then, she said, it became an ordinary room.

I just watched the entire miniseries in one go on Netflix streaming video and was amazed at how good it was, and so resurrected this thread (as some of the comments on it capture the movie very well). I planned to stretch out watching it but got so caught up I stayed up late last night and watched the whole series.

An amazing cast at the top of their game (Jeremy Irons, especially), wonderful location shooting, incredible score and design, easily the best miniseries I’ve ever seen. And one of the few modern films with such a strong Catholic viewpoint. I read Ralph McInerney’s chapter on the book and film in his book “Letters to a Young Catholic,” and agree that the ultimate theme of both is the journey up the ladder of love through the protagonist’s life to the ultimate communion with, and love of, God.

It touches on so much more, though - the tragic collapse of a Catholic family in the face of a changing society, a brutally realistic view of alcoholism and enabling, homosexuality, British society, war, and much else. It’s also quite funny in parts (especially in the scenes with Sir John Gielgud as Irons’ dad, who makes an art form out of emotional distancing). I got more than a little choked up several times in the last two episodes.

Although ultimately a very moral film, it is definitely an adult film with an adult viewpoint. The homosexuality of some of the characters is presented frankly (but with a more nuanced view of SSA than you are likely to see in more recent and more PC films), and there are some brief scenes of male and female nudity.

If you haven’t seen this before, I’d highly recommend it.

I watched the miniseries when it was first shown in 1981.

The impression I got was that Catholicism was available to all , but nobody seemed to get the message. They were so busy with their idle rich concerns they didn’t thing about God deeply. So they lost themselves.
The grand dame of Brideshead was devoted to religious ritual to be sure, and even had a chapel in her home, but apparently she was not that saintly kind of woman that any mad would be glad to have. Her husband, Lawrence Olivier, had run away from her and doesn’t show up until near the end.

The meaning of the story is the search for who we really are.

If the movie of BR is anti-Catholic, then it truly misrepresents the novel by Evelyn Waugh who was received into the Catholic Church in 1930.

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