DRAMA; 2hr 15min
STARRING: Matthew Goode, Ben Wishaw, Hayley Atwell
Outclassed: from left, Goode, Atwell and Wishaw
When conservative, middle-class undergraduate Charles Ryder (Goode) meets aristo-Catholic Sebastian Flyte (Wishaw) at Oxford in 1925, he is captivated in a flash by Sebastian’s elfin, insouciant style, then by his impossibly privileged and glamorous life. Hailing from a drab background, motherless Charles is equally taken with Sebastian’s capricious sister Julia (Atwell) and his domineering mother, Lady Marchmain (a velvety, iron-fisted Emma Thompson), as much for who they are as for the dizzying ideal they represent. But this is not Charles’s world and he is no more in control of it than his elusive newfound friends.
Julian Jarrold’s direction of Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel — adapted by Jeremy Brock and Andrew Davies — has a luscious Merchant Ivory–style patina and moves with arthritic heaviness, as if in awe of its thematic weight. As visually imposing as it is, 135 minutes is a veritable casebook of family trials, which could help explain why its frustrated longings and elitist religious torment played so much more sympathetically as a TV series.