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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Literature > British TV > Mini-Series > Brideshead Revisited – Standard/25th Anniversary Editions (Acorn DVDs)

Brideshead RevisitedStandard/25th Anniversary Editions

(British Mini-series)


Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: C+/B     Episodes: B



Adapting literature into the film medium is not easy, but when it is done right, it can be a massive achievement.  One of the few TV mini-series that exemplifies that inarguably is of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, with a production that was plagued with a strike, a change of directors and very last minute casting and scripting points.  You would never know it from how extremely well the eleven episodes flow, especially from this particular DVD set, one of the most ambitious and successful restorations of any TV program in the format since the original episodes of The Avengers arrived early in the format’s history.  So successful in fact that Acorn Media has issued a second upgraded 25th Anniversary Edition with more goodies, but first, the series.


The story is an epic telling of a pre-World War II friendship between two men, who meet under circumstances of great wealthy.  It is the world of Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews) that Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons) suddenly becomes a part of.  The two bond as friends very quickly and that locks the motivations and journeys of both life paths henceforth, no matter what.  This includes reflections on faith and choices of faith, but that never becomes preachy, obnoxious, or populist, a great testament to the intelligence of this work.


Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom, Michael Gough, Diana Quick, Nickolas Grace,  and John Gielgud are among the name guest stars, but this is a solidly cast work that is one of the deservedly most legendary of all British TV mini-series still ever produced.  The location shooting and the fact that this was all filmed only add to its richness.  Though first broadcast in 1981, only the monophonic sound and more known actors give away the true age of the production.  Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, best know for so many key Rock Music films, started the project, but a TV strike and other commitments that occurred afterwards led to him being succeeded by Charles Sturridge, who did a stunning job finishing what Lindsay-Hogg and Waugh began.


Though the shows take their time in telling the story, this remarkably never drags in any part, which is not easy.  Nothing ever gets overly sentimental or melodramatic, and the characters are drawn out in three-dimensions all over the place.  The result is that you feel transported.  It is the kind of work, especially in a DVD set this fine, that will get people who never read the book to read it, and those who have to reread it.


The full frame 1.33 X 1 image is remarkably good, coming from the original camera materials, something not done since the original broadcast copies were put on old, dated and obsolete analog videotape or even projected into a device that put a watered-down version of the filmed image over the air.  The painstaking way the film has been retransferred and color timed is so good, it is technically fair to say that this is a more authentic debut for the work than when it was first broadcast over two decades ago.  There are only minor detail issues, but thanks to this huge step up, an HD version will be easier to make.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 is a new stereo-upgraded version that sounds good, is clean and has surprisingly low distortion for a production that is monophonic, especially from its time, and even more especially from television.  The stereo never sounds phony.  The resulting combination lays low all previous versions of this production and can certainly go a few rounds with any other full screen such production on DVD to date.  There is some odd digititis in some dark scenes, which is really the telecine transfer trying to deal with grain, but it is the only flaw in otherwise truly pristine playback.  I really want to see this when a High definition version becomes available, but the cinematography by Ray Goode from 16mm film shines in this set greatly just the same.  The performance is the same in the new set.


Extras from the original set include a fine booklet inside the DVD case with a letter from Sturridge, cast and crew information, a brief piece on Waugh’s life, synopsis of each episode, and a great piece on the shooting locations.  DVD 1 was the only disc with any extras, offering location photos on top of production notes by production Manager Craig McNeil, expanded details on the cast and crew that would not fit in the booklet (biography and filmography information), a special captioned stills section all on Castle Howard and text on how the DVD was produced with details on the new transfer.  This all carried over to the new set.


The new extras for the 25th Anniversary set include a 50-minutes-long documentary, outtakes and two new audio commentary tracks.  Irons, Quick and Grace discuss the series on the first show, while Andrews and writer/producer Derek Granger talk on the fourth show.  These are welcome additions that place this set of the show above the previous box set and show the restoration work went over very well, well enough to make the classic have a second wave of interest.  Though few TV shows are as legendary as Brideshead Revisited, as much television as possible needs this kind of upgraded treatment.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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