Evelyn Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited in just four months whilst on leave from the army during the latter stages of the Second World War in 1944. Completed as the Allied forces were landing in Normandy, the book was published to widespread acclaim and no small amount of controversy in 1945.
Waugh was writing what he has called his 'magnum opus', about the decline of the English Catholic aristocracy. It was during the war - a period of uncertainty and almost certain change - which Waugh believed would pave the way for the rise of the common man and the end of the gentry and with it, a rich and glorious era. Brideshead Revisited was epic in scope, set across several continents and three decades from the 1920s to the 1940s. Its theme, as described by the author, is 'the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters'.
The novel includes some autobiographical detail - Waugh converted to Catholicism in 1930; he also encouraged a friend to convert on his deathbed. He enjoyed life as an undergraduate at Oxford, drinking too much and mixing with people from grander colleges than his own (Hertford) as well as experiencing at least one homosexual relationship. His Oxford contemporaries included Graham Greene, Anthony Powell and John Betjeman and when Waugh later wrote Brideshead Revisited, it was during a celebrated period in English literature which included the publication of Betjeman's New Bats in the Old Belfries, Orwell's Animal Farm and Dylan Thomas's Deaths and Entrances. Brideshead Revisited is possibly the best known and most celebrated of Waugh's 13 novels and is considered to be a classic of 20th century literature. It features in the list of Time Magazine's Top 100 Novels.
The Film Version of Brideshead Revisited
When Ecosse Films' producers looked at the novel with a view to adapting it into a screenplay, they were surprised and excited to discover that the novel had never been made into a feature film. "We were going through a list of classic novels which had never been made into films and Brideshead came up," says Robert Bernstein, Producer at Ecosse Films. "I was astonished to discover that it was available and we jumped at it."
Waugh himself had granted MGM an option to develop a screenplay in the 1950s, but he hadn't liked the script. Producer Kevin Loader comments, "I think they were keen to take out the religious elements, and the subject of Julia having an affair was a very difficult one for the Hollywood of that time." Since then, the Waugh Estate had received various enquiries regarding the film rights but had held onto them. "The Estate is quite protective," notes Kevin. "They saw an early draft of the script and were keen that some of the religious scenes in the novel didn't get completely watered down, but they have been very supportive."
Ecosse Films' Robert Bernstein and Douglas Rae brought in the award-winning television screenwriter Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice) to develop the script, before turning to another acclaimed screenwriter, Jeremy Brock (Last King of Scotland; Mrs Brown) to pick up the baton. "Different writers bring different values to a project and I felt at a certain point that Jeremy, whom I'd worked with on two other films (Charlotte Gray; Mrs Brown) was the right person to take it to the next stage," says Bernstein.
Jeremy Brock was initially unsure what he could bring to the script, and wanted to get back to the source material. After rereading the book, he felt exhilarated. "I thought it was one of the best books in the English language," he says. "It's a tremendous piece of writing and one of the big challenges for the screenwriter is not only to find a way of compressing the story to fit within a film's timeframe, but to find the film equivalent for prose poetry which this book contains in abundance. It is some of the most beautiful prose you will ever read and that gives the book a personality which the film has to find the equivalent of."
The complexity and scope of the story itself also appealed to Jeremy Brock but in order to condense such an immense story into a film, he needed to find a clear line through the text. "It's a love story but a complex, subtle, grown-up love story about the pursuit of beauty and about faith, passion and guilt. The essence of it, for me, is the very singular love story between Charles, the outsider, and two incredibly vivid young people - beautiful, tortured, wonderful people, Julia and Sebastian - that he falls in love with. That gives this epic its originality." Jeremy adds, "It's how you then spin the rest of the narrative around that love story that becomes the challenge."
Jeremy felt the love story has much resonance today. "The triangular love story between Charles, Sebastian and Julia seemed to tell a story about caste, which I found very contemporary and fresh," he says, "And I thought there was a way to tell this story about an outsider coming into this family - a caste very different to his own - and dealing with that in a way that is very true to the book but also tells a modern audience something about fundamentalism and about how difficult it is to grow beyond our roots, to live beyond what has formed us in our childhood."
Although there hadn't been a previous film version of Brideshead Revisited, there had been a very successful television adaptation in the 1980s. Produced by Granada Television for ITV in the UK in 1981, the 11-episode series was extremely popular in the UK and much of Europe, creating a new benchmark in quality television drama. It is now over 25 years since the series aired but the memory looms large. Writer Jeremy Brook comments, "When I was thinking about writing the screenplay I was thinking about the book. I did look at the TV series again and then I forgot about it. Although the book is set in the rarefied world of the aristocracy between the wars, it still speaks directly to many of the issues that count as 'current': religious fundamentalism, class, sexual tolerance, the pursuit of individualism. For those reasons, I didn't feel I needed to worry about the TV series, and as I wrote, I felt that more and more."
The modern parallels and universality of the story intrigued producer Kevin Loader. Brought onto the project by Ecosse in 2006, Kevin comments, "Jeremy had just completed a rewrite and it had transformed the script. It's a wonderfully grown-up classic novel and a book of its time to an extent, but I think, consciously or subconsciously, we have tried to do something which would resonate now. The focus of this adaptation is the two love stories - Sebastian's for Charles and Charles's for Julia. The way those two stories interact, interlock and circle one another is timeless." He continues: "I think what the story also contains is a very interesting portrait of parental influence on children, religious upbringing on children and a historical snapshot of a moment in English Catholic aristocracy between the wars. But most importantly, it is about one man's inter-relationship with two members of one family, both of whom he falls in love with."
During the development process of Brideshead, Ecosse films were producing Becoming Jane, starring Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy and directed by Julian Jarrold and they were keen to bring Julian in to direct Brideshead, too. Julian recalls, "Robert Bernstein called me during the editing of Becoming Jane and my initial reaction, was 'Hasn't that already been done?' It took me a while to come around."
Julian recalled the TV series and comments, "I deliberately haven't watched the TV series, as I thought I'd either end up copying it or reacting against it, and I'd prefer to react to the script and read the book and identify the things which were crucial to me about those two things for the film." Like Jeremy Brock, Julian returned to the source material and was captivated by the intricacies of the novel. He comments, "I think Waugh's aim of the book was to write a very Catholic novel about how a group of characters come to God, and while that is true, he doesn't follow as simple a path as that. The best parts of the book are when the characters have an inner life and react in very contrary and contradictory ways. They are often shown in a very unflattering light, particularly Sebastian and Lady Marchmain."
As a novel Brideshead Revisited has a very rigid three-part structure, each section addressing different parts of Charles Ryder's life. To create a fluid, dramatic screenplay, some reconstruction was necessary. Julian explains, "In the book, Waugh deals with Sebastian, then stops and deals with Julia - there is barely any overlap. For the film, it is much more interesting dramatically to have the two coinciding." Writer Jeremy Brook also brought one major additional deviation from the book to the screenplay. Kevin Loader explains: "We've taken a few liberties with the plotting to serve our story, and what Jeremy did was to put Julia in the Venice sequence of the novel, so when Charles and Sebastian go to visit Lord Marchmain and his mistress Cara in Venice, Julia goes with them on the trip, which is different to the book. It became the pivot of the story for us." Julian adds, "By taking Julia away from Brideshead, she can feel a bit freer, let her hair down. At the Carnivale, she sees people cavorting and it opens her up, sexually and emotionally, as it does Charles. That allows them to become entwined romantically which then disrupts Charles's relationship with Sebastian, almost breaking Sebastian."
When dealing with the Waugh Estate, the filmmakers had been open about their intention to put more of a focus on the relationship between Charles and Julia than the TV adaptation had done, to which the Estate had no objection. Kevin Loader comments, "They were happy about that and did see an early draft. They were most keen that we didn't completely water down some of the religious scenes and I don't think we have. Julia's choice at the end of the film is still one between earthly values and spiritual values."
JULIAN JARROLD - Director
Julian Jarrold made his feature film directorial debut in 2005 with KINKY BOOTS, starring Chewitel Ejiofor.
Most recently Julian directed Oscar nominee James MacAvoy and Anne Hathaway in the Jane Austen biopic feature film BECOMING JANE.
Prior to that Julian worked in the UK television industry for more than 10 years and directed some of the UK's most prominent and successful British TV drama series and mini-series in that period.
In 1994 Julian directed a BAFTA winning episode of the acclaimed ITV drama series CRACKER ('THE BIG CRUNCH'), which he followed up with the two hour film for Granada, SOME KIND OF LIFE which was nominated for a BAFTA. Working with the BBC Julian also directed the Emmy-nominated miniseries GREAT EXPECTATIONS starring Ioan Gruffudd and Charlotte Rampling and ALL THE KING'S MEN starring David Jason and Maggie Smith. Julian has also worked with some of the UK's most talented young actors including John Simm in the BAFTA nominated, feature length dramas, NEVER, NEVER and CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and Andrew Lincoln in THE CANTERBURY TALES: MAN OF LAW for the BBC.
He also directed BOOTS Julian Channel 4's critically acclaimed adaptation of the Zadie Smith best selling novel, WHITE TEETH, starring Om Puri and Phil Davis.
JEREMY BROCK - Script writer
A graduate of the BBC's directors' course, Jeremy has enjoyed a successful screenwriting career since 1985. He wrote TIMES LIKE THESE starring Greta Scaachi and Tim Woodward. He adapted Dickens' OLIVER TWIST directed by Phyllida Lloyd at the Bristol Old Vic in 1990. He co-created (with Paul Unwin), the UK's most successful hospital soap, CASUALTY, which has recently sired the spin-off "Holby City". Other credits include THE WIDOWMAKER for Central Films, directed by John Madden, and THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PHILIP KNIGHT, directed by Peter Kosminsky for Yorkshire Television.
Jeremy's first feature film was the acclaimed MRS BROWN, directed by John Madden, starring Judi Dench as Queen Victoria and Billy Connolly as John Brown. Brock won the Evening Standard Award for Best Screenplay and the film went on to be nominated for two Oscars and eight BAFTA awards, including Best Original Screenplay. Jeremy went on to write screen plays for CHARLOTTE GRAY, based on Sebastian Faulkes' novel, was directed by Gillian Armstrong and starred Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup and Michael Gambon and Oscar winning THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND directed by Julian McDonald, starring James McAvoy and Forest Whitaker. Jeremy won the BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay and the British Independent Film Awards for Best Screenplay
Jeremy made his directing debut with DRIVING LESSONS, staring Julie Walters and Rupert Grint in 2006
ANDREW DAVIES - Script writer
Andrew Davies is acknowledged to be the most successful adapter of classic novels writing in television today. He began his career by writing radio plays and then moved into writing for television, films, theatre, novels and children's books.
Following the huge success of BLEAK HOUSE, a sixteen-part series for BBC1 broadcast in 2006, Andrew has now dramatised Charles Dickens' LITTLE DORRIT for the BBC for production in 2008. SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, Andrew's Jane Austen adaptation for the BBC was transmitted in January 2008 to critical acclaim and followed on from his dramatisation of NORTHANGER ABBEY which screened as part of ITV's Jane Austen Season.
Other recent productions include DIARY OF A NOBODY, which starred Hugh Bonneville produced by Clerkenwell Films for BBC4, his three-part dramatisation of the classic novel FANNY HILL for Sally Head Productions again for the BBC, and an adaptation of E.M. Forster's A ROOM WITH A VIEW for ITV. Andrew also wrote a three-part adaptation of THE LINE OF BEAUTY Alan Hollinghurst's Booker Prize winning novel for BBC2 which transmitted in 2006.
Andrew co-wrote the screenplay of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED for Ecosse films. He wrote the screenplay of AFFINITY based on the novel by Sarah Waters, which is a film for ITV in the UK and theatrical exhibition in the rest of the world. Other film credits include BRIDGET JONES' DIARY and the follow up-film, THE EDGE OF REASON. Andrew also had a co-screenwriting credit with John Le Carré and John Boorman on the TAILOR OF PANAMA. Andrew's own novel B-Monkey was produced as a film by Miramax.
Andrew's other highly acclaimed TV productions include a four-part dramatisation of Anthony Trollope's HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT for the BBC, dramatisations of George Eliot's DANIEL DERONDA for BBC1, Sarah Waters' first novel TIPPING THE VELVET for BBC2 and Boris Pasternak's DR. ZHIVAGO for Granada Television and ITV.
Other adaptations include Trollope's THE WAY WE LIVE NOW; Kingsley Amis' TAKE A GIRL LIKE YOU, a contemporary television film of William Shakespeare's OTHELLO; Elizabeth Gaskell's WIVES AND DAUGHTERS; A RATHER ENGLISH MARRIAGE, which won the RTS Award for Best Single Drama; VANITY FAIR; and MOLL FLANDERS which stars Alex Kingston. His six-part dramatisation for the BBC of MIDDLEMARCH received rave reviews. HOUSE OF CARDS, MOTHER and his original series A VERY PECULIAR PRACTICE are also amongst Andrew's credits.
Andrew's acclaimed screenplay of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE was transmitted on BBC 1 in the autumn of 1995 and received both the highest viewing figures of any BBC Classic Serial and the highest audience for any drama transmitted on the Arts & Entertainment Channel in the United States.
His many awards include five Baftas, as well as numerous Bafta nominations, an Emmy for his adaptation of House of Cards, and an RTS award. In 2002 Andrew was awarded The BAFTA Academy Fellowship.
The cast and their characters
Brideshead and Castle Howard
Locations and the British Weather: shooting Brideshead
The Look of Brideshead: Hair and Makeup, Costume, Production Design and Cinematography
THE ART OF ADAPTATION