Twenty years on, 'Brideshead Revisited' is revisited for the cinema

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The Independent Culture

Brideshead Revisited, one of the most acclaimed British television drama serials, will be turned into a film, with the ubiquitous Andrew Davies lined up as screenwriter.

The Evelyn Waugh novel, which follows the fortunes of two friends in the hedonistic days of 1920s Oxford University with particular focus on the Catholic family of one, was adapted by Sir John Mortimer in 1981.

It made stars of Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews in a cast that included Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Claire Bloom. The novelist Anthony Burgess called it "the best piece of television ever made". Two years ago, programme makers voted it the most popular drama adaptation in television history.

Davies, responsible for the current television adaptations of Daniel Deronda and Dr Zhivago, wants the new version to concentrate more heavily on the religious tensions in Waugh's novel.

Although those tensions were evident in the 1981 adaptation, Mr Davies said at the weekend: "I think that ITV got the wrong emphasis. Of course, it was done very well by ITV. But I'm more interested in the religious side of the book, rather than the Oxford days. In fact, for me Sebastian and his teddy bear were the problem. Yes, the scenes at Oxford were magical and all that, but they were silly, too. The more the book goes on, the more interesting it becomes. It essentially begs the question, 'Is God more important than love?' It's a Catholic novel."

Sir John Mortimer responded: "I was writing it, like Waugh was in 1944, in a very grey and drab period. So, yes, I wanted to bring out the golden age of Oxford in the 1920s. It's the feeling of youth and, yes, the absurdity of youth too, which I wanted to get across."

The film is to be made by the British production company Ecosse Films, which made Mrs Brown, the story of Queen Victoria's friendship with her servant, John Brown, starring Judi Dench and Billy Connolly.

Douglas Rae, who runs Ecosse, said: "Brideshead Revisited is an iconic and classic book. I think that the British excel at period drama pieces. I was one of those people who grew up with the ITV version."

Mr Rae added: "I think that more than 20 years later there's room for a film for a new generation of people who never saw the TV drama, and for that older generation who did watch it, but would welcome a different version."