August 14, 2014 3:09 PM EDT

“I should like to bury something precious every place where I’ve been happy, so that when I’m old and ugly and miserable, I can come back and dig it up. Remember.” This in a sense was the spirit of this lush, 11-part adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel of memory, in which British army officer Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons), just before WWII, recalls his youth at Oxford and his befriending by Sebastian, a fey, teddy-bear-toting dandy who changes his life. In 1981, it was controversial for its sex scenes and its overt and covert homoeroticism. Seen today, it looks at first like a particularly expensive version of the British costume nostalgia that became a public-TV cliche. But what distinguishes Brideshead is its sensitive ability to translate the novel’s tone of wistfulness and regret to the screen. Brideshead took a novel and made it into a poem.

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