Brideshead Revisited: Beef Wellington

Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Julian Jarrold
Starring: Emma Thompson, Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Hayley Atwell, Michael Gambon
(PG-13, 135 min.)

"We build our own cages." Paul Zindel

This film just reeks of class, from the superb acting to its homes of the rich and famous settings, with a script that is subtle and insightful. Once again we are reminded that no one can bring the full majesty of classic literature to the screen like the British.

Part of the beauty of the film, relatively true to Evelyn’s Waugh’s novel, is that each character contributes to his or her own tragedy. Certainly the potent arbiters of class and religion provide a large assist in this self-destruction, but the characters themselves make the existential choices that slowly leach the joy from their bones.

It might seem easy enough to blame the rigidly Catholic Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson) for the happiness she has whisked away from her two children like some broken crockery in the nursery, but for her sincere belief. Her faith is not just something she dons on Sundays but as much of her core as the in house chapel is part of the magnificent and sprawling Brideshead estate.

Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) is drawn into the complicated family when he meets Lady Marchmain’s sweetly rebellious son Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw) at Oxford. The two become best friends of sorts, Sebastian lavishing his affection on Charles just as he does upon the stuffed teddy bear that is his constant companion. That the dimensions of that attraction tend toward the homoerotic on Sebastian’s part is noted but not shared by Charles.

It is Julia (Hayley Atwell), Sebastian’s beautiful sister, who draws Charles, that and the over the top magnificence of Brideshead itself, with its cathedral like passages, the tapestried hallways, and the swimming pool sized fountains presided over by an army of marble statues. He admires it more as a work of art rather than a display of untold wealth, but the resulting attraction is the same. 

Like a few brush strokes from a gifted artist, sometimes a brief scene or indeed, merely a sentence or two, reveals an essential truth. The aloof relationship between Charles and his father, for instance, is sketched with both economy and insight. As Charles prepares to leave for his studies at Oxford, his father continues on with his soup, acting as if his son’s departure - certainly a worthy event for most families, especially those of more limited means as in this case - has momentarily slipped his mind. When Charles returns at the end of term, he greets him with, “Back so soon?”

Another telling scene is Sebastian’s tour of the family chapel at ancestral Brideshead. Following Sebastian’s lead, Charles, too, dips his hands in the holy water. When Sebastian tells his friend, admittedly not a Catholic, not to do so, Charles replies, ‘I was only trying to fit it,” which is exactly what the middle class son of a clerk is desperately trying a little too hard to do. 

Other times the friendship seems effortless, as in the beautiful wine sampling scene with the two waxing poetic about the vintages. 

"It is a little, shy wine, like a gazelle." 
"Like a leprechaun."
"Dappled, in a tapestry meadow." 
"Like a flute by still water."
"And this is a wise old wine." 
"A prophet in a cave." 
"And this is a necklace of pearls on a white neck." 
"Like a swan." 
"Like a unicorn."

While the two make light fun of wine pretensions, they cannot so easily throw off other conventions. Charles is trapped as much by his stubborn atheism as Sebastian and Julia are the strict admonitions of their faith. Brideshead, for all its vaunted passageways, is as choking as a charnel house, a cold and magnificent mausoleum that smothers passion and joy even as it lives on only in a their guilt ridden hearts.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Brideshead Revisted author Evelyn Waugh confessed that he wrote his novel while recovering from a parachuting accident in the war, and that deprivation caused him to write about luxurious wine and food with such exuberance.

I have chosen a traditional English dish worthy of our two Oxford gentlemen who are so enamored with their wine: Beef Wellington, a filet of beef tenderloin assembled with liver pate, mushrooms, and onions, and then wrapped in puff pastry. 

And while Voltaire might complain that “England has forty-two religions and only two sauces,” who needs a sauce with this delightful package.

Beef Wellington

Ingredients 

  • 2 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 2 ounces liver pate
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 (17.5 ounce) package frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 1 (10.5 ounce) can beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons red wine

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Place beef in a small baking dish, and spread with 2 tablespoons softened butter. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until browned. Remove from pan, and allow to cool completely. Reserve pan juices.
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. Saute onion and mushrooms in butter for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool.
  3. Mix together pate and 2 tablespoons softened butter, and season with salt and pepper. Spread pate over beef. Top with onion and mushroom mixture.
  4. Roll out the puff pastry dough, and place beef in the center. Fold up, and seal all the edges, making sure the seams are not too thick. Place beef in a 9x13 inch baking dish, cut a few slits in the top of the dough, and brush with egg yolk.
  5. Bake at 450 degrees F (230 degrees C) for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for 10 to 15 more minutes, or until pastry is a rich, golden brown. Set aside, and keep warm.
  6. Place all reserved juices in a small saucepan over high heat. Stir in beef stock and red wine; boil for 10 to 15 minutes, or until slightly reduced. Strain, and serve with beef.

Recipe Source: allrecipes.com