Evelyn Waugh's classic novel of love and the British class system has been given a polished screen adaptation in this film version from director Julian Jarrold. Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) was raised in a middle-class household and though he's never known want and is fortunate enough to have been accepted into Oxford, the life of the upper class is foreign to him. While serving in the British Army during the waning days of World War II, Charles is assigned to a temporary base set up on the estate of the wealthy and aristocratic Flyte family, where he strikes up a friendship with twentysomething Lord Sebastian (Ben Whishaw). Sebastian enjoys the pleasures his privileged life has afforded him, but he also senses that something is missing, and he tries to drown his frequent episodes of depression in alcohol. Charles is captivated by the splendor of Sebastian's life, and he finds himself drawn into a web of decadent comfort, while also developing an infatuation with Sebastian's sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell), even as Charles senses his relationship with Sebastian is something deeper than simple friendship. The idyllic days at the Flyte estate come to an end with the arrival of Sebastian's mother, Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson), a fierce Catholic who objects to her son's free and easy life and has become increasingly bitter since her husband, Lord Marchmain (Michael Gambon), has left her to live in Italy with the lovely Cara (Greta Scacchi). This was the first cinema adaptation of Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, though it was the basis of an acclaimed miniseries produced for British television in 1981.
~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide