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Bright Young Things

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Jan
Bright Young Things
from Film Forum, 10/14/04

Bright Young Things, adapted from a novel called Vile Bodies by the Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh, represents the directorial debut of the popular British actor and writer Stephen Fry (Wilde, Gosford Park).

The film explores the libertinism of the Jazz Age, following a writer (Stephen Campbell Moore) whose manuscript is seized by customs agents, upsetting his plans for publication, throwing him into financial distress, and threatening his wedding plans. Dan Aykroyd (Grosse Pointe Blank) co-stars as the publishing magnate, Emily Mortimer (Young Adam) as his fiancée Nina, and Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rouge, Vanity Fair) as a drunkard who goads the writer into making a bad bet. Peter O'Toole also shows up playing Nina's father. (C. S. Lewis fans, take note: James McAvoy, who has been cast as Mr. Tumnus the faun in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, has a role as a gossip columnist.)

Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) says, "Fry has seen in Waugh's story a searing indictment of a celebrity culture filled with gossip columnists and paparazzi, long before our present-day obsession with such gossip-generating engines as the National Enquirer and the E! channel. There's much decadent posing and snorting of cocaine and such in the party scenes, but, as in the book—a classic of social criticism—it's all for a moral purpose. The central characters ultimately come to a realization of the more important things of life."

John Zmirak (Godspy) writes, "Fry imbues the film with more of a Christian spirit than Waugh's novel ever had. We witness hospital nuns tending the sick, performing the only altruistic acts which appear on screen. In the film (but not the book) suffering and deprivation appear as potentially redemptive—while suicides and nervous breakdowns are depicted as genuinely tragic, not grimly amusing. Even the shallowest characters are presented as more human and forgivable than the pre-Catholic Waugh portrayed them—as if Fry were reading back into this early work the faith which eventually would give its author a glimmer of hope for this fallen world, shining through from the next."

Mainstream critics are divided over the success of the film, but most praise Fry's effort.