The Decline and Fall of Waugh

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Bright Young Things Odeon George Street Friday 10-Thursday 16 October Stephen Fry’s Bright Young Things spend a lot of time at parties. In fact, they don’t really have much else to do. And going to lots of parties is really rather dreadful you know, and one gets awfully tired of it, and one feels rather like a media whore when one is always on the front page. The main problem facing this film is that lots of people would quite like to spend their time going to parties. Unless, that is, you’re Stephen Fry, who finds it all a bit trying, or Evelyn Waugh whose novel, Vile Bodies, this film is based on. The fact that you emerge from the cinema sympathising with the harsh reality of being young, bright, but really not rich enough to keep yourself in cocaine from week to week is one of the main achievements of this film. In the opening sequence, the camera pans through the kind of red-lit debauchery you really wish you found more of at Oxford before homing in on Emily Mortimer’s Nina: “I’ve never been more bored in my life”. It’s an effective technique; the social whirlwind of the society scenes contrast starkly with moments when the perky jazz music fades. Particularly poignant is when we are left alone in the distinctly unaristocratic apartment of the short-lived Lord Simon Balcairn. The music is replaced by a vitriolic condemnation of the people who sustained and then excluded him as the camera whirls faster and faster over the jiving masses. The party scenes serve as a structure for the earlier part of the film, each bathed in a different light. Indeed the film as a whole is rather beautiful, cleverly using the light of flashbulbs and candles to set scene. Its motifs may not be the most subtle – angels puking onto the hero Adam Symes’ novel and later singing about Jesus as we watch the party hostess snorting coke – but they are visually striking nonetheless. The Bright Young Things are “all to pieces” as the Hon Agatha Runcible points out, but they’re witty enough for enjoyable viewing and are surrounded by a cast of famous British actors. Richard E Grant, Jim Broadbent and Simon Callow all do their best to put on their silliest accents, which is always rather jolly. The main plot concerns Symes’ attempts to marry Nina, an event which is hampered by the continual disappearance of Broadbent’s drunken Major with the cheque that will make his fortune. The moral is that spending your time at parties doesn’t pay and money doesn’t make the world go round, but the film steps back from Waugh’s pessimistic satire towards a soft focus happy ending. Not quite what Evelyn Waugh intended, but if you can’t afford to throw a decent party you could do worse than going to watch Bright Young Things.ARCHIVE: 0th Week MT2003 

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