A while ago I treated myself to a boxed set of the Granada TV production of “Brideshead Revisited” – all four DVDs of it. It took me a while to get round to watching it but over the last few weeks I have worked my way through it as I have done the ironing.
When the series was originally broadcast in 1981, I was 15 and in the fourth form at my all girls grammar school in Lincolnshire. I had not read the book and must have been made aware of the programme by trailers that caught my interest. I settled down to watch the first episode and was hooked. It was a time in my life when I was growing up but thought I had got further than I actually had. The boys that I knew from the school next door were also maturing and most of my friends were one or two years older than me. There was something about the relationship between Charles and Sebastian that appealed to all of us. They were young and carefree but just that little bit older than us which gave us a glimpse of what might be around the corner. They shared this close and yet slightly enigmatic friendship which we all craved. The fact that they were both boys made no difference. Their relationship transcended any sexual element and that was of little interest to us.
After the very first episode it was all we could talk about on the school bus. The boys were divided and either wanted to be the foppish and pretentious Sebastian or the slightly insecure and yet intense Charles. The girls wanted to be lost in a world full of beautiful people with beautiful clothes and a mad sense of extravagance that could not be found anywhere else in 1981.
And so, week on week we tuned in and took our fill of a world that we could never be part of. Of course, the story becomes darker as it progresses and I remember feeling a sense of loss when Sebastian landed in Morocco and all the innocence of Oxford was left far behind him. When Charles began his inevitable affair with Julia tongues wagged on the bus and when the Regiment was billeted at the house, it was all I could do to stop myself screaming at Charles to tell his colleagues that he had painted the murals in the garden room.
The series captured my imagination like little had done before or since. I discovered the book a few years later and was entranced by Waugh’s beautiful narrative, which had been brought to life so eloquently by Jeremy Irons.
And now, when I watch it again, I am transported back to that time in my life with a resonance that takes my breath away. Even the theme tune makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I can smell the fields of oil seed rape that the school bus passed through as we dissected every scene of the night before’s episode. But as an adult, I am drawn to different aspects of the story. I see that it is not just about love but about Catholicism and guilt and loyalty, all issues that I missed first time around. Now, instead of being captivated by the beauty I see the sadness and inevitable destruction of the relationships.
And I cried. I cried for Charles and his loss but mainly I cried for myself. Because I remember so clearly how I felt when I first saw it, I can make the obvious comparison with how I feel now and can morn the loss of my youth and innocence. “Brideshead Revisted” was one of the strongest influences of my teenage years and yet it as relevant to my life now as it was then. There are very few things of which I can say the same. Now, where did I leave Aloysius?