'Brideshead Revisited' is based on Evelyn Waugh's classic novel, and is preceded by the much lauded 1980s television series. Although this adaptation, helmed by Julian Jarrold, is suitably ravishing to look at, with sumptuous sets and beautiful locations, it somehow fails to do an extremely important thing - make you empathise with the main characters.
It follows middle-class Charles Ryder (Goode), a young ambitious painter as he meets the exceedingly wealthy and dissolute Sebastian Flyte (Whishaw) while at Oxford. Charles quickly becomes seduced with Sebastian's decadent life, especially after being brought back to the grand surrounds of his stately home. Here Charles meets his beautiful but reticent sister Julia (Atwell) and his devoutly Roman Catholic mother Lady Marchmain (Thompson).
Sebastian is soon to fall in love with Charles, but he has feelings only for Julia. These feelings come to the surface when they are holidaying in Venice, while visiting their jovial father, Lord Marchmain (Gambon), who lives with his mistress there. This is much to the chagrin of not only devastated Sebastian, but to the manipulative and venomous mother. She cannot allow devout Julia to become involved with a professed atheist.
What follows is a fairly plodding drama as Sebastian falls apart at the seams and Julia struggles with her Catholic guilt, leaving it to Charles to try and mend the pieces of the broken family.
Performances are varied. Emma Thompson is suitably domineering and glacial as the controlling matriarch, while Michael Gambon puts in a good turn as the easygoing father. Ben Whishaw's Sebastian is camp without overdoing it, becoming a tragic figure as the film progresses. But Matthew Goode does not convince as Charles, and has left the audience with not much to sympathise with. Similarly unconvincing is his love affair with Julia, which gives the audience nothing to root for.
The film's greatest success is how it looks. Director of photography Jess Hall has excelled in creating a flawless aristocratic feel and picturesque look. From the stunning Brideshead grounds, to the interiors of the grand home, to the cobbled streets of Venice, all are shown with an impeccable attention to detail and stylistic flair.
Although overall the film fails to emotionally involve, making it a rather dull affair, period drama fans are sure to be won over by the expansive cinematography and brooding atmosphere.