Movies

The X-Files & Brideshead Revisited

The X-Files & Brideshead Revisited featured image

by Marc Glassman.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe Chris Carter, director and co-writer w/Frank Spotnitz Starring: David Duchovny (Fox Mulder), Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully), Amanda Peet (Dakota Whitney), Billy Connolly (Father Joseph Crissman), Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner (Mosley Drummy), Callum Keith Rennie (Janke Dacyshyn), Mitch Pileggi (Walter Skinner)

Brideshead Revisited Julian Jarrold, director; Andrew Davies & Jeremy Brock, script based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh. Starring: Matthew Goode (Charles Ryder), Ben Whishaw (Sebastian Flyte), Hayley Atwell (Julia Flyte), Emma Thompson (Lady Marchmain), Michael Gambon (Lord Marchmain), Greta Scacchi (Cara)

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

You can’t go home again. The young doomed novelist Thomas Wolfe first expressed that poignant one-liner in the 1930s, way before the onslaught of television in popular culture. It’s just as appropriate now as it was then—and, curiously, it currently applies to reviving great old TV shows in films.

Three times this season the Hollywood blockbuster machine has tried to bring back beloved TV programmes and each time they’ve failed. The multi-million dollar film version of Sex and the City took a risqué comedy and turned it into a shopping commercial for aging overly indulgent fashionistas. Then Get Smart was fruitlessly brought back as an over-blown spy thriller—exactly the genre that it wittily parodied as a show back in the ‘60s. Now X-Files returns as a sentimental, lugubrious recap of one of the most intelligent and challenging series ever created for network television.

You can’t accuse of X-Files: I Want to Believe of crass commercial considerations. Chris Carter, the creator of X-Files helms this production with care; no effort has been spared to bring back the old technical crew that helped to make the show so successful in the ‘90s. (The film is even shot in BC, where the best years of the series had been produced.) The iconic duo of Fox Mulder—the witty, arrogant David Duchovny—and Dana Scully—the beautiful nerdy Gillian Anderson are back in harness for this all-out attempt to make a feature film success out of a TV cult classic.

It’s not going to happen despite the fact that millions of old X-Files fans do “want to believe.” The problem may be that there is too much love and respect involved behind this production.

Much of the fun in the TV series came from the speculation around the relationship between Mulder and Scully. Why weren’t they sleeping together? Now, their relationship is easily defined: they’re an old almost-married couple who neither want to stay together nor fully break-up. Despite several scenes involving arguments between the two, no sparks are lighting up this weary old duo.

Despite the dream casting of Amanda Peet as an FBI agent who gets Mulder back in the field after a decade’s absence, nothing passionate takes place between that duo either. Indeed, only Billy Connolly, playing conflicted defrocked priest Father Crissman, is allowed to shine in this production.

The plot, which involves kidnappings, murder, stem cell research and body parts, could have been exciting. But every event seems to take place in slow motion. With one exception, nothing shown here is shocking or even surprising.

Sadly, X-Files: I Want to Believe is a misfire. It will take a miracle for this franchise to survive the blow—unless the show’s fan base turns the film into a hit. My psychic sense says, “no,” but, hey, I could be wrong.

Brideshead Revisited

It must be old home week for TV productions. Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant novel Brideshead Revisited inspired an acclaimed13-part British television series in 1981, which launched the career of Jeremy Irons and was a notable success on the US’ then highly regarded PBS (Public Broadcasting Service).

It’s back now, as the source for a faithfully rendered feature film. Sets, costumes and attitudes are well laid out, in the familiar British tradition. The novel, which takes place from the early 1920s to the mid ‘40s, explores the relationship between the poor but talented Anglican born Charles Ryder and the wealthy aristocratic Catholic Marchmain-Flyte family.

Charles Ryder meets the desperately sad but appealing Sebastian Flyte almost immediately upon his arrival as a student at Oxford. The two become smitten with each other; rarely are they apart, though the exact nature of their friendship is only hinted at in Waugh’s novel. Sebastian takes Charles to his ancestral home, Brideshead, for the summer, where their lives become enmeshed with those of the rest of his family: beautiful older sister Julia, younger high-spirited sister Cordelia, stolid brother Bridey and the grand matriarch Lady Marchmain.

The nature of Sebastian’s struggle becomes obvious—his overbearing Catholic mother will hardly accept her son’s homosexuality. Correctly surmising that young Ryder, despite religious differences, is actually a good influence on Sebastian, Lady Marchmain sponsors a trip to Italy where the duo, accompanied by Julia, can visit her estranged husband and his mistress. It’s there where Ryder’s growing passion for Julia is revealed, forcing Charles out of Sebastian’s inner circle.

Over the course of the following decade and a half, Ryder’s life and those of the Marchmains continues to intersect. Gradually, the Catholicism that seems to be an invasive, repressive force in the lives of Julia, Sebastian and the rest of their family is embraced by all of them. In the end, it’s Ryder who finds himself on the outside again; like England, perhaps, he finds himself unwilling to put his faith in a mystical, traditional religion.

As Charles Ryder, Matthew Goode is no Jeremy Irons but he acquits himself well. Even better is Ben Whishaw as the tragic Sebastian. He is more than matched by those expert scene-stealers Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon as Lady and Lord Marchmain.

Does this version of Brideshead Revisited match its TV predecessor? Not really. Waugh’s religious argument is far too subtle for a two-hour adaptation of his novel. Indeed, you could leave the theatre feeling that Catholicism has overwhelmed the Marchmains—not saved them.

The only original contribution to Waugh’s novel is the film’s explicit handling of Sebastian and Charles’ early infatuation. Obviously, homosexuality is not the issue it once was in England and elsewhere. But once those early scenes are played out, this version of Brideshead Revisited runs out of passion and spirit. This is a worthwhile film but not a great one.

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