BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, homosexuality and faith — then and now

English author Evelyn Waugh’s conversion to Catholicism in 1930 was as big a news item in its day as Tom Cruise’s Oprah-couch moment professing love (to a woman) was in ours. It made the newspaper. I don’t need to remind you of TomKat’s fate; but unlike that ill-fated union, Waugh departed this life dedicated to his religion. What’s the connection, beyond Oprah and her book club? For me it’s the subtext of homosexuality and the belief in a higher power that endures in our culture. And in Julian Jarrold’s BRIDESHEAD REVISITED — airing Sunday at 8P — the elephant in Waugh’s novel is handled as tenderly as possible.

Which is not to say that there wasn’t controversy surrounding Jarrold’s rendition of the beloved story, mainly from purist who felt Sebastian’s (Ben Whishaw) love for Charles (Matthew Goode) — and his (spoiler alert) physical advancement that fated summer evening — was too liberal an abstraction of the novel’s ambiguous bond between the boys. It’s safe to say that Waugh’s text is intentionally ambivalent regarding the schoolboys’ intimate friendship. But judging from what we know about the early twentieth century and the social climate, homosocial bonds were ripe with feelings of affection and deep affinity because there was a dearth of legitimate outlets for gay relationships elsewhere. History also teaches that repression and sublimation lead to depression and dysfunction. You know? Opposition to acceptance still exists in gay teen bullying and social inequality.

Sebastian and Charles’ infatuation is complicated; a mixture of envy and desire for select parts of the other’s circumstances. Their bond has an intimate quality that boils into an ambiguous love. Some of you might have experienced something like that growing up. Ciao “Chris C.,” wherever you, your wife and child are today.

The physical closeness between the two sheds light on the complicated paradigm their relationship butts against. The problem is not class or sexuality as much as it is faith. As an atheist, Charles Ryder does not understand the bond his surrogate family has with God. Every other relationship is literally doomed at Brideshead, not by divine judgment (fire and brimstone and the like), but by free will.

To the end, each holds a type of love for the other. According to Waugh, it wasn’t that a Catholic God was against Sebastian’s happiness with Charles. It was merely fated for disaster because neither boy learned to love himself, through divinity, first. Both are left to reconcile a sense of peace in light of their choices. Jarrold’s pathos toward their dynamic comes less from box office sensationalism and more from pragmatism. Love between men isn’t a novel concept. Addressing it without beating around the bush, as it were, seems a logical approach in a modern-day production. Maybe our current celebrities should take some time and read a book. Maybe then they’d find true love, or at least the next great role of their career.

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