The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde has always been one of my favorite plays and, despite my reputation regarding comedies, I find it hilarious. I did, however, approach the new film version with some trepidation since there is already a classic version that was made in 1952. It was hard for me to imagine anything approaching the perfect casting of that movie which included Michael Redgrave, Joan Greenwood, Edith Evans and Margaret Rutherford. The plot of The Importance of Being Earnest is probably well known to you. Two men, Jack Worthing (Colin Firth) and Algie Moncrieff (Rupert Everett) are escaping their families by visiting people who, in fact, don't exist. Jack escapes to town by saying he has to visit his no-good brother Ernest and Algie escapes from town to visit his sick friend, Bunbury. Needless to say, complications ensue. Jack is in love with Gwendolen (Frances O'Connor) but her aunt, Lady Bracknell (Judi Dench), won't allow them to marry due to the the fact that as a baby, Jack had been found in a handbag at Victoria Station (the Brighton line). Meanwhile, Algie decides to visit Jack's country estate claiming to be none other than Jack's brother. There, he meets and falls in love with Jack's young but beautiful ward, Cecily (Reese Witherspoon). Both Gwendolen and Cecily think they are love with men named Ernest and are nonplussed when they find out that their names are really Jack and Algie. The wonderful cast of characters is made complete by Cecily's governess, Miss Prism (Anna Cassidy) and the local Rector, Dr. Chasuble (Tom Wilkinson) whose love for each other has been strongly repressed.
My fears about the new version of The Importance of Being Earnest were completely unfounded. It is a wonderful film and stands up very well both to the original 1952 film and as a production of the play itself. The fact that it works so well as a film made in 2002, even though this story is all talk and no action, is a tribute both to the actors and to the director, Oliver Parker. Parker, who started out as an actor playing such big roles as, London Policeman, Moving Man 2 and Workman 2, has previously directed An Ideal Husband, also by Wilde, and Othello. The director did add a few laughable scenes in a misguided attempt to add some action but these can be ignored. The casting of The Importance of Being Earnest is as perfect as in the original film. The four actors playing the two loving couples are as attractive as they are excellent in playing their parts. And they are all having such fun with their roles that it comes through the screen to the audience. This makes The Importance of Being Earnest work since, of course, the whole thing has no seriousness at all. Colin Firth has been making women swoon since he burst on the scene playing Mr. Darcy in the Pride and Prejudice mini-series on TV. Everett is just right for the role of the slightly slimy but winning Algie. O'Connor does her best to make me forget the captivating Joan Greenwood. And Reese Witherspoon shows yet again that she is the cream of the crop of young actors today. Judi Dench will probably get her annual Oscar nomination for making the role of Lady Bracknell her own. And Tom Wilkinson, who can play anything from The Full Monty to In the Bedroom, could have mailed in this performance but he is does his usual amazing job. Funnily enough, Dench, Firth, Wilkinson and Everett all appeared together previously in Shakespeare in Love.
I saw The Importance
of Being Earnest under the worst possible conditions. I was on an airplane
and I always hate the films that I see on airplanes. But I loved
this movie and I was able to see it about three times coming and going
on planes and it wears very well. Go and see it. It is the classic
of its genre.