| Director Julian Jarrold (“Kinky Boots” and “Becoming Jane”) brings to the silver screen this provocative tale of forbidden love and loss of innocence set in pre-World War II England.
This version of the classic 1945 Evelyn Waugh novel should not be confused with the 11-episode Golden Globe and Emmy-winning television series that aired in 1982 on PBS.
Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode from “Match Point”), an aspiring painter, meets and is seduced by the charming Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw from “Perfume”) while studying at Oxford. Sebastian is a homosexual from a privileged aristocratic family. He introduces Charles to a world of privilege and entitlement.
The title refers to the magnificent mansion home on a countryside estate where his family resides. Charles becomes intoxicated in the presence of this wealth, which includes an impressive art collection. Although he regards Sebastian as a chum, Charles, an atheist, is attracted to Sebastian’s beautiful, sophisticated sister Julia (Hayley Atwell).
Standing in the way of any lasting union is the intimidating, white-haired matriarch Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson), an ardent Catholic. The romantic triangle comes to a head when Charles, Sebastian and Julia visit a separated Lord Marchmain (Michael Gambon) and his mistress Cara (Greta Scacchi) in Venice.
This movie is a proverbial feast for the eyes. The stunning locations, impeccable interior designs, authentic period props and gorgeous costumes overshadow the dramatic story and stock characters.
The movie has a wistful, lugubrious tone and reflects the powerlessness of Charles when looking back on past events. The movie plays up the decadent lifestyle with wine tasting, skinny dipping and leisurely pursuits.
An interminably slow and deliberate pace becomes tedious at the halfway point. The 135-minute running time seems much longer. The movie has a literary feel of a book on tape with live actors.
Since it is hard to have empathy for any of the main players, it’s as if the lights are on but nobody is home.
The handsome Goode does his best to carry the picture. His subtle desires and desperate need to be liked are ambiguously conveyed by his very bland facial expressions. Thompson just goes through the motions with a performance set on autopilot. Whishaw gives the best performance with the most daring and flamboyant role. The forward momentum of the film is lost when his character disappears for long stretches from the film.
Atwell gives us a glimpse of a promising acting career. Her star is definitely on the rise with anticipation growing for her next appearance in “The Duchess.”
For a more lasting connection, my recommendation would be to read the book first and then rent the DVD for home viewing. Opening soon at AMC Studio 30, Cinemark Palace and the Leawood.
Keith Cohen, "The Movie Guy"