A pop at me­dia van­ity

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&entertainment -



THERE IS a great deal to en­joy in this amus­ing ro­man à clef based on Bri­tish jour­nal­ist Toby Young’s best-sell­ing mem­oir of his rather less than glo­ri­ous two years as a con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor of the pres­ti­gious mag­a­zine Van­ity Fair in New York.

For ob­vi­ous rea­sons Young’s sar­donic story of de­cline and fall has been smartly fic­tion­alised by screen­writer Peter Straughan.

He has given the book’s se­ries of au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal vi­gnettes an ef­fec­tive nar­ra­tive arc which neatly takes celebrity-ob­sessed Sid­ney Young (Si­mon Pegg) from the creative chaos of co-edit­ing the Post Mod­ern Re­view mag­a­zine in Lon­don to New York when Clay­ton Hard­ing (Jeff Bridges), ed­i­tor of the cel­e­brated Sharps mag­a­zine, un­ex­pect­edly of­fers Young a job.

Young’s op­ti­mistic bite of the Big Ap­ple turns out to be a hi­lar­i­ous suc­ces­sion of comic faux pas, so­cial catas­tro­phes that have Hard­ing dub­bing him the mag­a­zine’s “very own idiot sa­vant — without the sa­vant”. De­spite his fre­quent dis­as­ters, Young still man­ages to ro­mance his col­league Ali­son Olsen (Kirsten Dunst) — but she prefers an­other staffer.

Young has been triply lucky with a film whose di­rec­tor, screen­play and key cast­ing could hardly be bet­ter. Pegg is per­fect cast­ing for the ac­ci­dent­prone celebrity hound and Bridges is very funny in a de­li­cious riff on his laid-back stoner char­ac­ter from the The Big Le­bowski.

It is hardly a mas­ter­piece, but still good clean, and some­times en­joy­ably dirty fun.



THE KEY ques­tion is this. Does this English Her­itage-drenched film of Eve­lyn Waugh’s clas­sic 1945 novel match up to the land­mark 1980s ITV mini-se­ries. Re­gret­tably, the an­swer is no.

Hav­ing worked (in a very lowly ca­pac­ity) on the TV se­ries, I find di­rec­tor Ju­lian Jar­rold’s film per­haps more faith­ful to the novel’s re­li­gious themes, but a much lighter, lesser piece of work, and, com­pared with the minis­eries, se­ri­ously un­der-cast.

The story be­gins at Ox­ford in 1925 where un­der­grad­u­ate Charles Ry­der (Matthew Goode) is be­friended by louche young aris­to­crat Se­bas­tian Flyte (Ben Wishaw) who draws him into his priv­i­leged home life. There Ry­der falls for Flyte’s sis­ter Ju­lia (Hay­ley Atwell) only to find him­self in­creas­ingly at odds with the fam­ily’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with priv­i­lege and Catholi­cism.

Goode is good enough but hardly out­stand­ing, Wishaw is ir­ri­tat­ing and more man­nered than his char­ac­ter, leav­ing Emma Thomp­son as his mother Lady Marchmont and chate­laine of the an­ces­tral home Brideshead to give eas­ily the best per­for­mance. Michael Gam­bon im­presses as Se­bas­tian’s fa­ther but, like the leads, the ma­jor­ity of the act­ing is ser­vice­able but lit­tle more.

The cos­tumes and pe­riod trim­mings are fine, as is Cas­tle Howard which, as in the tele­vi­sion se­ries, stands in for Brideshead. A visit to Venice (not in the orig­i­nal) is in­cluded pre­sum­ably to at­tract Amer­i­can audiences with a love for the pic­turesque.

But in the end, this Brideshead emerges as bet­ter suited to the small screen than the cin­ema.

Klutzy Si­mon Pegg, dubbed an idiot sa­vant “without the sa­vant”

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