Brideshead Revisited

Rating 8.0
Streamers Amazon Prime, BritBox
Seasons 1
Episodes 11 x 60 mins

This is a British telly classic, full of bumbling posh people parading round equally posh looking landscapes, and if you can look past all the snobbery and rah-ing, there’s a brilliant bit of period telly to go at here. And, originally airing in 1981 the show is celebrating its 40th birthday, which if you ask us is a great reason to revisit Brideshead.

Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited was published in 1945, and goes even further back in its story, which tells of the life and romantic liaisons of Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons), in particular his relationships with his friends the Flytes, who happen to be mega wealthy and live in a massive mansion called Brideshead Castle. Good friends to have, then. The tale is told retrospectively, after Charles is sent to an estate called Brideshead during the war, sparking nostalgic recollections of his life alongside the Flytes in the 1920s to 1940s.

In modern terms, it is a bit like Downton Abbey, though (dare we say it) better. It’s from a pre-Netflix era, where telly producers would focus on creating one, perfect series, the idea of being renewed for a second likely far from their minds. What would you even call it: Brideshead Revisited Revisited? So, it’s done really well – there’s a lavishness to it, and a cosy nostalgia. And for all its pretentiousness, there are a few subtle digs in there, most notably at the Bullingdon Club, who bully the camp character of Anthony Blanche, throwing him in a fountain. Reminds us of a story or two about certain government members…

But let’s not dwell on that, and instead cosy up with this series full to the brim with old-time hat-tipping in the brilliant company of Irons and Anthony Andrews, who plays Sebastian Flyte.

Though Stuart Jeffries of The Guardian finds this show “insufferable,” even he admits “there is much to admire” in these “663 minutes of classic TV drama.” Notably, he says “the most cherishable scenes… [are] those of Ryder with his father (a superb portrait of venerable waspishness and bad parenting by dear, dear John Gielgud) at their London home.” The New York Times’s Thomas Vinciguerra says “the series’s lush evocation of a bygone era of English high living was infectious,” whilst the show, more successfully than the novel, “revealed the damage done to Jeremy Irons’s character by a deceptively charming, immensely wealthy family.” Maybe this is why The Atlantic’s Ben W. Hieneman Jr says the series’ “power as art is undiminished.”

First shown October 1981.

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