Knight at the Movies Archives
Julian Jarrold's sumptuous take on a classic is worth luxuriating in, Parvez Sharma's documentary is eye opening to say the least
Going to the movies hasn’t been this gay since December of 2005 when Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Transamerica, and Breakfast on
Pluto were all playing in theatres at once. In addition to Mamma Mia! and The Dark Knight, the two summer blockbusters released last
week that both feature queer content (overt and covert) – Chicago audiences are now getting the lavish, bisexual romantic drama
Brideshead Revisited, the fascinating, eye opening documentary about gay Muslims, A Jihad for Love, and Chris & Don: A Love Story, a
charming film detailing the relationship of two gay artists. For the moment your cranky gay film critic, forever harping on the lack of
queer subject matter absent from most movies, is sated.
Director Julian Jarrold, responsible for last summer’s literary blockbuster Becoming Jane has now topped himself with a big screen
adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s romantic saga Brideshead Revisited. Jarold’s adaptation clocks in at far less than the 14 hour
mini-series from 1981 that made Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews as gay lovers Charles and Sebastian household names – at
least in households that watched PBS. This version should do the same for Matthew Goode who plays the title role of Charles Ryder,
the handsome innocent who is drawn to both the flamboyant Sebastian and his beautiful but mysterious sister Julia.
Set before the second World War in England and Venice and told in flashback, the film focuses on what happens when Charles gets
involved with the impossibly rich and impossibly Catholic Marchmain family. Young Charles, motherless and saddled with a distant
father, is immediately drawn to Sebastian and his circle after arriving at Oxford in spite of his cousin’s warning, “Sodomites. All of
them. Best to stay clear.” A drunken Sebastian (Ben Whishaw who played the lead in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer and was one
of Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan’s in I’m Not There) vomits in his doorway, wipes his mouth with a blue silk scarf and promptly sends
flowers and a fluffy note inviting Charles to share lunch with he and his ever present teddy bear. The two hit it off and their courtship
blossoms and after the two share a passionate kiss, appears to take on a physical nature. This is a world where one kiss has the
power to change lives.
But when Charles is invited for an extended visit to Brideshead, the family’s gargantuan estate, Sebastian suddenly becomes
petulant. He doesn’t want to share his newfound infatuation with his family – especially “mummy.” That’s not hard to understand.
When the middleclass Charles, already overwhelmed by the family’s wealth and power, comes to the attention of Lady Marchmain
(Emma Thompson) he’s impressed but ultimately as overwhelmed by her as Sebastian is. Lady Marchmain, who prays in her
luxuriously appointed chapel along with her children (which includes a younger daughter), is a woman so deeply ruled by her Catholic
faith that she’s bred two of the most screwed up children in English literature with her iron will to control their lives. Innocent Charles
declines to pray and quakes (as the audience does) when she says to him, “In the end we must all accept God’s gifts, even atheists.”
Neverthless, Lady Marchmain sees that here at last is someone who can deal with her son’s “peculiarities.” She quietly commands
Charles to keep the fey, jittery Sebastian in check and off the booze. Instead, Charles transfers his affections to the lovely, dark
Julia (Hayley Atwell), Sebastian’s mysterious sister who is promised to a man selected for her by her mother. During a visit to Lord
Marchmain (Michael Gambon who is properly acidic) who pursues a “hedonistic” lifestyle in Venice with his indulgent mistress (Greta
Scacchi), things between Charles and Julia heats up and they, too, share a life altering kiss – witnessed, of course, by Sebastian.
Back at Brideshead events lead to Charles incurring the displeasure of Lady Marchmain who sends him packing. This confrontation is
thrilling to witness. Like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada Thompson never has to raise her voice. She’s so assured of her
position and the rightness of her religious convictions she doesn’t question her actions and her dismissal of Charles annihilates him
emotionally (it’s a terrifically entertaining scene). Later, when she unexpectedly shows up on Charles’ doorstep to ask him to bring
Sebastian back from Morocco Thompson’s voice and carriage suggest a strong sensual undercurrent. Thompson, who appears in
only five scenes, is absolutely riveting and her commanding vitality hangs over the picture and you want a lot more of her.
Goode taking on his first starring role (he has had notable parts in Match Point, Imagine Me & You and The Lookout) is wondrous. He
lets you see the conflict confronting Charles – his desperate desire to remain within the realm of the superrich Marchmain’s, his need
for love, his susceptibility to this overpowering world, the intoxicating effect that Sebastian and Julia have on him. Ironically, it’s the
effect that Charles and the power of the one kiss he shares with both brother and sister that emotionally sends both off the rails.
Sebastian comes to understand this. “I asked too much of you,” he tells Charles when the two meet for the last time, “Only God can
give you that kind of love.”
Brideshead Revisited is a sumptuous epic, beautifully shot, scored (by Adrian Johnson), dressed and art directed (the Venice section is
absolutely enthralling) – a romantic drama that honors its literary source and deeply satisfies.
Parvez Sharma’s A Jihad for Love is a revealing documentary about gay Muslims, two words used to signify personal identity that
like gay Republicans and gay Evangelicals would seem as compatible as oil and water. Nevertheless, as Sharma’s film vividly
demonstrates, these two warring dichotomies often coexist in people whose religion and sexuality are immovable. The movie, which
draws on footage shot in Iran, Paris, Turkey, South Africa, and Canada, is as compelling in its way as For the Bible Tells Me So, Daniel
Karslake’s film which presented first person stories of gay men and women from evangelical families. Sharma will be present for
screenings at the film’s Chicago premiere which is taking place at the Gene Siskel Center beginning this Friday, July 25.
Never mind the emotional consequences of coming out – this is a community where revealing your gay sexuality can literally mean
death. Sharma gets this point across at the outset of the film when a self-proclaimed gay Muslim in South Africa who preaches
tolerance during radio broadcasts gets callers who suggest he should have his head and hands chopped off or be stoned to death.
“Jihad is not a holy war,” he says with a sigh, “it’s a struggle.” Sharma points this out as the film moves from country to country
tracking down random gay Muslims brave enough to face such wrath (many who have fled from their homes to more tolerate
countries). We are presented with their stories – catalogues of human indignities suffered by gays for centuries. A man is arrested
and jailed for years for standing in line to get into a gay disco in Cairo, an Iranian man is arrested and given 100 lashes after
attending a party with other gays, and on and on.
Like other repressed gays, the plea for tolerance resonates as does the bravery of the individuals profiled. As do the attempts by
many of the individuals profiled in the film to reconcile their deep, unshakable faith with their undeniable homosexuality. “If God
has planted this love in my heart then it is legitimate” Kiymet, a lesbian insists, referring to her lover Ferda. Arsham, one of four
gay Muslims living in Turkey after fleeing Iran and awaiting word on whether he’ll be allowed to emigrate to Canada says with
exasperation, “Why do they think the sky has to be the same color for everyone?” Arsham and his friends are the heart of the film
and the scene in which they use a public phone to call their families back in Iran is terribly moving.
When Arsham gets the okay to move to Canada the moment is bittersweet. Arriving at his new home, far from his family, he says,
“Today is my new birthday.” Then a moment later he breaks down and crying out, “How can I be free when others cannot?”
It’s a heartbreaking moment in a film filled with them. www.siskelfilmcenter.com
Brideshead Revisited-A Jihad For Love
Expanded Edition of 7-23-08 Knight at the Movies Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.