BBC Radio 7, 17-20 November 2009
Any adaptation of Waugh's late novel will inevitably be measured against Charles Sturridge's great 1981 production for Granada Television, where a star-studded cast, including Anthony Andrews, Jeremy Irons and Laurence Olivier acted out the tale of lost ideals against a backdrop of gorgeous scenery, lavish costumes, and a slow-paced narrative allowing plenty of time for character development. The novel was reworked into a two-hour film in 2008 by Andrew Davies in a production directed by Julian Jarrold; unlike the earlier version, this adaptationm emphasized the homosexual relationship between Sebastian and Charles, an alteration which, while bringing the novel more into line with contemporary sensibilities, was deemed "unimaginative" by the Los Angeles Times critic.
Marian Nancarrow's four-part radio version treated this relationship more ambivalently - while Sebastian (Jamie Bamber) and Charles (Ben Miles) were obviously close, they were more like best buddies, keeping together through thick and thin. The production was much more interested in the passage of time and its effect on the main characters; how growing up influenced their lives; and how the historical changes of the mid-twentieth century (most notably the decline of the landed gentry) affected the characters' way of life. Charles in particular resented the ways in which time wrought such radical changes on his life, and yearned for those innocent days at university, when it seemed that the sun would never set on their edenic existences. As he grew older, he realized that Brideshead - understood in this sense not only as a stately home, but as a symbol of a vanishing way of life - could never be the same again, He also became aware of his responsibilities as a pillar of the community; he could no longer enjoy a close friendship with a man, in case he was suspected of homosexual tendencies. All he could do was to suppress such desires.
By contrast Sebastian remained unable to escape the past. eventually descending into a downward spiral of drink and depression. Although he and Charles occasionally encountered one another, they gradually drifted farther apart, leaving Sebastian isolated. In Nancarrow's interpretation, Brideshead thus became a story of time passing, of suppressed feelings and guilt shared by both protagonists, as they came to understand how they had never successfully manage to disclose their feelings for one another/
In this production Lord Marchmain (Edward Petherbridge) assumed a central as someone who, although physically blind, nonetheless had the most clear-headed solution for dealing with the passage of time. Although orthodox Catholicism might offer some solace in the form of protection, it could never help individuals like Charles or Sebastian to come to terms with their particular sufferings. The only way this could be achieved was through reflection - a painful process, perhaps, but one which both men had to endure. Both of them had to get used to heartbreak/
At the end of this production I was left feeling both saddened yet also guardedly optimistic - even if Sebastian might not be redeemable, at least Charles had taken heed of Marchmain's advice.