Mar 4, 2013
Revisiting Brideshead Revisited
And I find Brideshead Revisited, an adaption of the Evelyn Waugh novel about 1920s Oxford undergrad Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons) falling in love with the flamboyant, teddy bear-toting, alcoholic Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews).
They run away to Venice together; they go slumming in Soho, along with Sebastian's sister Julia. Then Ryder begins a romantic entanglement with Julia, and the outraged Sebastian dumps him and runs off to Morocco. Later he hooks up with a sleazy German named Kurt, and later still he dies. Ryder can't marry Julia because she's Catholic and he's an atheist, so they just live together. Later he becomes Catholic.
Thirty years have passed. I've studied a lot of LGBT history and literature, and watched a lot of gay movies, and I've found that you can't go home again. Today I strongly dislike Brideshead. Sebastian is certainly gay, but a decadent wastrel who ends up dead. Ryder may fall in love with him, but then he moves on to Julia. Evelyn Waugh, who wrote the original novel, believed that gayness is a phase -- adolescents, newly potent but forbidden access to the opposite sex, naturally turn to each other. Their brief period of quasi-romance ends when they move on to "mature" heterosexual love.
In 2008, the BBC aired a new version of Brideshead, with Matthew Goode (left) as Charles Ryder and Ben Wishaw (right) as Sebastian. This time there's no subtext: Sebastian is gay. But there's also no romance: Ryder is heterosexual but pretending to be interested in Sebastian to gain access to his vast wealth.
See The Death of Peter Pan, about another doomed love in 1920s Oxford.