“Brideshead Revisited” is an unimpeachable yet ultimately unmoving adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel about social ambition, religious conflict and doomed love.

There’s nothing wrong with director Julian Jarrold’s film: The cast is fine, the production values solid. Everything is meticulously appointed in the traditional high style of a Merchant-Ivory period piece.

As in “Becoming Jane,” Jarrold’s Jane Austen tale from last year, it’s all beautiful – but bland. The whole endeavor just rings a bit hollow, especially condensed to two hours, compared to the epic 11-episode miniseries from 1981.

Maybe we’ve changed too, though. The ideas that homosexuality could serve as a source of torment, and that differences in class and faith could create irreparable rifts in a relationship, seem rather archaic now. And so the chief sources of tension in Waugh’s novel, which might have been perceived as incendiary when it was published in 1945, have lost much of their punch.

Screenwriters Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brock have made a few tweaks to the text (which the Waugh estate approved) but the meat of the story remains intact.

The stoic Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode, in the role that made Jeremy Irons famous), a British army officer during World War II, reflects upon the romantic entanglements of his youth. He recalls how be became enraptured by the aristocratic Marchmain family and, specifically, with their ancestral home, Brideshead Castle, where he’s now returned with his troops.

Charles first meets the decadent dandy Sebastian (Ben Whishaw) while at Oxford and the two quickly fall into a close friendship, despite Charles’ middle-class London roots. (The film spells out that Sebastian is in love with Charles, whereas Waugh hinted at the homosexuality in the book.) The pleasingly flamboyant Sebastian, carrying a well-worn teddy bear and sporting a jaunty flower in his lapel, whisks Charles away to idyllic afternoons of champagne and frolicking in the sunshine – male or female, gay or straight, who could resist?

But then Charles meets Sebastian’s sophisticated sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell from Woody Allen’s “Cassandra’s Dream”), and becomes smitten with her, which sends the already fragile Sebastian into an alcoholic spiral. This “Brideshead Revisited” is structured more as a love triangle of Charles, Sebastian and Julia, including a couple of kissing scenes that don’t exist in the book, but it’s also a triangle of the atheistic Charles, Julia and her belief in God.

It’s hard, though, to understand Charles’ deep attraction to Julia. Sure she’s lovely but, as played by Atwell, she’s also a sullen bore. “I can’t stand the place,” she says in disaffected fashion between puffs on a cigarette while discussing the stately Brideshead. But then perhaps it was always the house Charles loved after all, and Julia was merely the human manifestation of it that he thought he could possess.

Goode is in a tough spot in the role of Charles Ryder: He has to serve as our guide, as our eyes and ears in this glittering, foreign world, and yet he’s also our anchor, one we’re asked to rely upon even as he does some questionable deeds. Goode is great-looking and plays the part with requisite understatement, but to see what he can really do, check him out as a charismatic criminal in the 2007 thriller “The Lookout.”

Emma Thompson is, unsurprisingly, an intimidating force as the family’s rigidly Catholic matriarch, Lady Marchmain. But being an actress of great nuance, Thompson also displays the vulnerability and insecure possessiveness within this complicated character. And Michael Gambon brings a randy energy to his few scenes as Lord Marchmain, who has left the family to live with his mistress (Greta Scacchi) in Venice.

Purists will be pleased, though, to see that Castle Howard, the setting for the beloved Granada Television miniseries, again plays the part of Brideshead. The filmmakers said they couldn’t find any other place that was quite so oppressive and grand.

It is indeed a nice place to visit, or revisit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.