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Blog Posted in avatar   Jonathan Farrell's Blog

Some of the greatest PBS TV series crop up on Netflix; Brideshead Revisited is among them

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By Jonathan Farrell
Posted Mar 20, 2013 in Entertainment
Netflix provided by Roku is a marvelous amenity. While I do get frustrated that for some reason not all titles are in the Netflix library of movies, documentaries and series; every so often I stumble across some gems.
Among them is the PBS series "Brideshead Revisited" from 1981. When I first encountered it, I was enchanted by the subtlety of the script and the implications of subjects like "homosexuality," "extra-marital affairs," and alcoholism, set amid an aristocratic family of 1920's Britain. Compared to what is shown on TV today, all this was not as explicit as today.
True, like all the PBS series programing, the focus on all things British can get boring. Yet, there was something different about this high-brow and slightly "decadent" story, by author and journalist Evelyn Waugh
Waugh also talked about faith and Catholicism with an eloquent honesty that too pulled me in, even when I did quite catch all the words. British people tend to speak very differently than Americans and that might be why I was intrigued as well as a bit restless at times. Lovely words and there is a sense of morality here too Mr. Waugh, but what are you actually saying? Spit it out! Are the characters of Charles Ryder and the "charming" Sebastian Flyte gay? If they are, who loves who here?
And then, there is the Lady Julia, Sebastian's sister, does Charles have a crush on her? Then, what does that mean? Is Charles bisexual? Oh my! The thoughts running through my mind and the conservative concepts I grew up with being challenged. And, right on PBS, oh my!
Keep in mind this was the early 1980's former California Governor, Ronald Reagan was in office as president and there was this wave of conservatism that was sweeping the USA. I was still in high school at the time and being in a Catholic high school, I was told by my spiritual advisor, "not to watch such material on TV because it will lead one away from the faith."
Being a staunch Catholic at the time, I tried to stop watching "Brideshead Revisited." Yet, I wanted to know more; will Charles and Sebastian continue to be friends and hopefully be good friends? Or, will Sebastian succumb to his addiction to alcohol? I was also wondering if Ryder would embrace Catholicism. Waugh made it all look so charming and his elegant words seemed so deeply felt.
I was also intrigued by the actors, John Gielgud, Clair Bloom, and Lawrence Olivier. What a cast! Yet I wanted to know more especially about Jeremy Irons, who was he? Amazingly, he went on, far beyond PBS and "Brideshead Revisited" over the next decade, to eventually win an Oscar for his staring role in "Reversal of Fortune." And, with some very impressive movies completed in between such as "The French Lieutenant's woman," co-starring with another fascinating personality, Meryl Streep.
Yet, there was something about that series Brideshead Revisited that pulled me in. Certainly there were episodes I enjoyed more than others. Still, I wanted to know how the series would end and hoped Charles and Sebastian would remain friends.
In high school at the time, I was lonely (like all adolescents are) for true friendship. And, perhaps this rather romantic storyline with some wonderful scenery and great dialog fit that yearning. There were lots of other characters too, such as Anthony Blanche a very flamboyant dandy who stuttered when he talked bordering on the overly eccentric. But his appearance only spiked my curiosity.
Keep in mind this was the early 1980's and the awareness and liberties we know now were still struggling amid civil and political strife. Believe it or not, San Francisco for all its liberal atmosphere in those days, had very strong conservative tenants in some parts. And, even the most daring of liberals faced some formidable obstacles, politically and socially. Ask anyone who lived in the City of SF at that time.
Okay, so I was in the conservative confines of Catholic high school and much of what was going on was not clear to me. Still, the thoughts and ideas that were emerging at the time, even on a PBS series like "Brideshead Revisited" caught my attention and stirred my imagination.
In 1981-82  a PBS TV series charmed and intrigued many  it was Evelyn Waugh s  Brideshead Revisited....
In 1981-82, a PBS TV series charmed and intrigued many, it was Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited." This production was just before Merchant and Ivory films and yes way before "Downtown Abby."
Even the sets and the fashions of the series were becoming vogue. In the 1980's there was that return to a more collegiate look, give or take a few alternations by the "new-wave, punk-rock influence. "Going off to college" became the norm again after so many in the 1960's and 70's had "dropped out." God forbid I should not go to college after all that effort to go to Catholic school. And, as I was so often reminded by my mom, "what it costs to put you in that Catholic school we could buy a new car." Well, reflections on that can wait for another blog article. Back to Brideshead Revisited.
Waugh constructed a novel that was rich as it was thought provoking. And, PBS did a fine job of bringing it to the American television airwaves. Now, 30 years later, I think it still holds up, worthy of standing next to what's that new PBS series sensation...Downton Abby?

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