Mike Davies revisits Brideshead with Matthew Goode.
“When it comes to acting, it is very limiting to be English, says Matthew Goode. “It was ‘Bring on the posh!’ All the parts I was being offered involved my accent or someone with money and a title.”
This seems a bit rich coming from someone who’s only too happy to be the face of upmarket British Gentleman’s outfitters Hackett for the third season running. But, with the exception of Woody Allen’s class-themed thriller Match Point, with roles in Imagine Me and You, The Lookout and next year’s much-anticipated Watchmen, the Devon-born Birmingham University Drama graduate has avoided having to bring on the posh.
Which adds a nicely ironic twist to the fact although he initially put himself forward for the role of Sebastian Flyte, he wound up playing Charles Ryder, the baritone voiced middle class boy who yearns to be part of the aristocratic world of privilege embodied in Brideshead Revisited.
Confessing that one of the main reasons he took the film was because he didn’t have a job, having read Evelyn Waugh’s book when he was 12 and watched the original TV series on DVD, Goode also admits that he was initially none too fond of his character.
“When I first read the script, I didn’t get him and I found it quite hard to love Charles. I think he can be quite selfish and weak at times,” says Matthew.
“And I was a little worried it might make him look a little too much of a social climber too early on or that he appeared too ambitious. But then you look at his upbringing.
“When you see he had no love from his father, and no motherly influence, it gives you an understanding.
“He’s very messed up and doesn’t know what love is.
“Then he finds Brideshead and it’s the only place where he has ever really been happy.
“Throughout the film, Charles keeps striving for something that is impossible to attain.
“He thinks all these things that he’s exposed to and that he wants, are going to make his life the best it could possibly be when, actually, he was at his happiest during the simplicity of his first summer at Brideshead.
“You realise that, eventually, he’s doomed to spend the rest of his life on his own, so you do feel a certain amount of sympathy.”
Reviews of the film have felt less so, pointing to Charles being rather more unlikeable and more overtly socially ambitious than in the novel. Goode is spirited in his defence.
“I think he’s as much a social climber as we all are, “he offers.
“He’s brought into this world that’s a bit above his station and once he’s tasted it, he covets it. Suddenly he’s surrounded by beauty and why wouldn’t any of us, if we were dropped into that world, want to remain part of it? Charles’ love affair is as much with Brideshead as it is with Sebastian or Julia.”
Even so, he admits that he too initially found Charles’s coldness tough going.
“I never saw him as being hugely in love with Julia, and when he describes first sleeping with Julia, he says it was like taking the keys to the freehold.
“That makes him look like a social climber, But I think his personal ambitions only come on in the second half of the film and knowing of his lonely childhood made him empathetic to me.”
For Goode, it’s Charles who, unable to find the quiet acceptance or comforting faith of either Sebastian or Julia, is Brideshead’s true tragic centre.
“Everyone is more sympathetic to Sebastian,” he sighs. “But he’s quite a petulant drunk in many ways, and he isn’t there for his friend. Everyone forgets this, but Charles did all the right things. He didn’t bring Sebastian back from Morocco, but he still went and tried.
“Although it’s platonic, his friendship with Sebastian was the main love affair of his life, two people who had comparable loveless childhoods gravitating towards each other, and I think that’s one of the reasons he has such guilt at the end.”