If there is a television drama that runs close to the themes of V&R it is Granada TV’s Brideshead Revisited. Closely tracking Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant novel, the 1981 adaptation by the north of England television company is commonly regarded as one of the best TV programmes to have come out of Britain.
I have just finished watching it again: its treatment of Catholicism is superb and its fusion of style and theology exemplary.
The sad part is wondering whether the ethos of the contemporary Church could support such a story. The drama is complex but most fundamentally it concerns the conversion of two men. Lord Marchmain and Charles Ryder. Charles falls in love with two of Lord Marchmain’s children, Sebastian and Julia. The cunning of the 1945 novel is that it is Lord Marchmain’s aesthetic taste — for women, houses, wine, furnishings, and even liturgy — that brings Charles to the Church.
However, the novel is not about an aesthete’s love of the aristocracy and exotic ritual (Waugh does not need to heed the warning of Flannery O’Connor’s short story, The Enduring Chill). Most profoundly, through the Flyte family, Charles is taught about the value of suffering. Theologically, the novel is utterly sound, yet it’s hard to see the contemporary Church inspiring a great creative work dripping in glamour yet focused on individual conversions brought about through suffering.