Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Brideshead Revisited London in The Good Old Days

. . .a happy childhood, and though its toys were silk shirts and liqueurs and cigars and its naughtiness high on the catalogue of grave sins.-Charles, Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited on PBS was the first time I ever saw Jeremy Irons and took note of him. Jeremy Irons has played a thoroughly depressed fellow in most of the films I have seen him in. Maybe it's all he can play. But this somber and serious demeanor is perfect for the story of an unusual friendship in prewar Britain. There was a recent movie made of Brideshead Revisited-I have not seen it yet, but it is not possible for it to be as good as the tv show was.

In conjunction with the new movie there is a new aduio book-read by Jeremy Irons. My only complain about this audiobook is that it was recorded at inaudible levels. Even with the sound all the way up on my car stereo I could not make out Jeremy Irons deep and depressing tones over the sounds of the road. Still, I have been listening to it when not on the freeway and I find it to be brilliant.

Brideshead Revisited is one of those novels about how a man's life is over, really over, by the time he is forty. Everything of any significance has already happened and all that lays ahead in the future is death and loneliness-not necessarily in the order. Brideshead Revisited is just a light summer read. Not.

The great quality of Jeremy Iron's voice is his ability to perfectly capture that longing for the past, that painful nostalgia for what was once and can never be again. Like visiting a cherished childhood amusement park which has been closed and left to rust and rot. How could it be that this place was once so happy and now is not.

So it is that everything in the story is tainted with sorrow, even those passages which might otherwise have been happy. The recounting of the glory days with Sebastian are not so glorious as they might otherwise have been. We know, at least, that Charles-our hero, does not seem overly happy in his current life as a company Capitan in a battalion that will never see any action.

The great and powerful Flight family fall into Charles young life and change its course forever. Charles is gay/straight/frankly unlovable and totally unsympathetic. And yet, here among the cardboard cutouts of the Flight Family, Charles is the only real person. His love for Sebastian is unending, but he never tries to reconnect with him or help him with his drinking problem. His love with Julian is merely an echo of his love for Sebastian. He marries and has two children, but he cares nothing for the wife or children. Its a story filled with sorrow and lost opportunities.

Charles is not just a loser in love, he is also a loser in his many friends, and a loser in his faith and his lack of faith. He is an Agnostic, which means he doesn't have the faith of an Atheist. The two main story lines twisting through Brideshead Revisited are love and religion. Charles is bad at both. His refusal of both make him miserable, but it is hard to image that anything could ever really make Charles happy.

London plays a recurring part in Brideshead Revisited, as our heros move in a circle with London at it's core. While the Brideshead estate is not in London, the rich and insane Flight family has property in London. Charles and Sebastian met at Oxford and they spend a lot of time riding trains in and around London. There is that fairy tale quality about London between the Wars and that beginning of the tragedy that is London during World War Two. The outside world is always threating to intrude upon Charles is tiny world, but it never really does. Charles is self contained and remains so-though he clearly wants to be something more.

This is one of those stories that makes me think of London, it is a great book. Jeremy Irons does a great job of creating the feel and tone of the TV show he starred in all those years ago. Great Stuff.

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