Brideshead Revisited | 2012
After the legendary TV series in 1981, a two-hour film was always going to suffer in comparison but, although the first half-hour feels like the story-so-far for somebody who’s missed the first episode, there’s lot to admire, not least a few stunning performances.
The important location for ‘Brideshead’ itself was obviously a challenge. And, as for the TV series, the sumptuous Castle Howard in North Yorkshire, with its scale, its style and – importantly – its fountain, couldn’t be bettered. Commissioned by the Earl of Carlisle, the house was the first architectural design by playwright John Vanbrugh (The Relapse, The Provok’d Wife), with a little practical assistance from Nicholas Hawksmoor. Begun in 1699, it was inhabited by 1709 but took over 100 years to be completely finished. Vanbrugh went on to design Blenheim Palace, another popular film location (seen in Barry Lyndon and Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 Hamlet, among others), while his own house, Vanbrugh Castle in Greenwich, is featured in Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa.
Although open to the public, you won’t be able to see all of the paintings in the film at Castle Howard. The round picture that Sebastian claims to hate so much, and the large crucifixion were both painted especially for the film. Charles and Sebastian’s ‘Oxford’ picnic was also filmed in the estate’s grounds.
The ocean liner is stitched together from various locations. The wood-panelled lounge in which Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) exhibits his jungle paintings is Eltham Palace, Court Yard, Eltham, SE9. A heady mix, this – once a medieval manor house fallen into disrepair, it was rescued and restored in the Thirties by the Courtauld family. The textile magnates built their glamorous Art Deco London showpiece next to the remains of the royal palace – which was originally boyhood home of King Henry VIII.
A gift to film-makers, the house becomes King Richard’s private cinema in Richard Loncraine’s 1995 Richard III, and the home of slightly fey gangster Michael Gambon in comedy caper High Heels and Low Lifes. It can also be seen in the 2003 film of Dodie Smith’s novel I Capture the Castle, and it’s the gorgeous home of ferocious gangster Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta) in Guy Ritchie’s Revolver.
The silver deco ballroom, though, is the glamorous bar of the Park Lane Hotel, Piccadilly, W1. Neil Jordan used the Park Lane’s gleaming splendour for both Mona Lisa and The End of the Affair. The hotel also appears in the savage Gangster No.1; as a 'Parisian' department store in The Danish Girl; as a 'New York' hotel in romcom Made Of Honor; as a restaurant and a beauty parlour in The Golden Compass, and as the ‘Zig Zag Club’ in legendary Madonna-Sean Penn turkey, Shanghai Surprise.
The ship’s elegant corridors are Bethnal Green Town Hall, Cambridge Heath Road at Patriot Square – another screen favourite. The same interior featured in two Guy Ritchie films – as ‘Hatchet’ Harry’s office in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and as Benicio Del Toro’s tailor’s in Snatch. It was transformed into the office of ‘Bijou’ record company supremo Eddie Izzard in Velvet Goldmine, into the ‘London marathon office’ for Run Fatboy Run, and into the ‘Lyon’s Corner House’ tea room for Atonement.
The railway journey to ‘Brideshead’ arrives at Oakworth Station on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway
Going up to Oxford University, Charles’s first introduction to the city is the Radcliffe Camera. He glimpses Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw) from the bridge over the River Cherwell at Magdalen College. Sebastian’s college is the grand Christchurch, while Charles’s is the more modest Merton College, though the interiors for both were filmed in Lincoln College.
In Venice, the villa of Lord Marchmain (Michael Gambon) is the late 15th century Palazzo Contarini Polignac, on Canal Grande, alongside the Accademia. In the early 20th century, Princess Winnaretta de Polignac held avant garde music salons in the palazzo, with guests including composers Ethel Smyth and Igor Stravinsky.
The nighttime carnival was filmed in Campo Castelforte, San Rocco, though the chapel in which Lord Marchmain watches as Charles apologises to the distraught Sebastian, after kissing Julia, is way to the east. It’s San Francesco Della Vigna, Campo della Confraternita, Castello, toward the Arsenale.
The Morocco hotel in which Charles visits Sebastian is the Bahia Palace, Riad Zitoun el Jedid, Marrakech. Intended to be the greatest palace of its time, El Bahia (which means ‘Brilliant’) was built in the late 19th century for the Grand Vizier Ahmed Ibn Moussa, also known as Ba Ahmed. With its extensive gardens, it was built to house Ba Ahmed's four wives, twenty-four concubines and members of his family.
It’s open to visitors (though, with 150 rooms, you may want to hire a guide).