The Importance of Being EarnestJuly 4, 2002
In 1890s London, two friends use the same pseudonym ("Ernest") for their on-the-sly activities. Hilarity ensues.
Release Year: 2002
Rating: 6.7/10 (11,351 voted)
Critic's Score: 60/100
Stars: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor
Two young gentlemen living in 1890's England use the same pseudonym ("Ernest") on the sly, which is fine until they both fall in love with women using that name, which leads to a comedy of mistaken identities…
Writers: Oscar Wilde, Oliver Parker
Algernon 'Algy' Moncrieff
John 'Jack' Worthing
Lady Augusta Bracknell
Dr. Frederick Chasuble
Miss Laetitia Prism
Lane, Algy's Butler
Young Augusta Bracknell
Young Lord Bracknell
Duchess of Devonshire
Everybody Loves Ernest… But Nobody's Quite Sure Who He Really Is.
Official site |
Release Date: 4 July 2002
Filming Locations: Bluebell Railway, West Sussex, England, UK
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: $500,447
(27 May 2002)
(29 September 2002)
Did You Know?
Actress Finty Williams, who plays Lady Bracknell as a young dancer, is the daughter of Dame Judi Dench, who plays the older Lady Bracknell.
When Gwendolyn holds a match to light Cecily's cigarette, the cigarette is lit already. Also, Gwendolyn's match flame does not come close enough to the end of Cecily's cigarette to light it.
Do you mean you couldn't love me if I had a different name?
But what name?
Well… Algy, for instance.
I might respect you, Earnest, I might admire your character, but I feel that I could never give you my undivided attention.
This is an inventive and artful production of Oscar Wilde's play, but I
can confidently say that were Oscar Wilde alive today, he would be
appalled at the misuse to which his play has been put. Indeed I think I
feel the ground rumbling as he rolls over in his grave, and yes he is
actually spinning in anguish.
Oliver Parker, who directed and wrote the screen adaptation, simply
misinterpreted the play. He focused on the "dashing young bachelors"
when the real focus of the play is Lady Bracknell, the absurd and
beautifully ironic representation of the Victorian mind who was then
and has been for over a hundred years Wilde's singular creation and one
of the great characters of English literature. She is supposed to steal
every scene she is in and we are to double take everyone of her
speeches as we feel that she is simultaneous absurd and exactly right.
Instead Judi Dench's Lady Bracknell (and I don't blame Dench who is a
fine actress) is harsh and stern and literal to the point of being a
controlling matriarch when what Wilde had in mind was somebody who was
both pompous and almost idiotic yet capable of a penetrating and
cynical wisdom (so like the author's). Compared to Dane Edith Evans's
brilliant performance in the celebrated cinematic production from 1952,
Dench's Lady Bracknell is positively one-dimensional.
The point of Wilde's play was to simultaneously delight and satirize
the Victorian audience who came to watch the play. This is the genius
of the play: the play-goer might view all of the values of bourgeois
society upheld while at the same time they are being made fun of. Not
an easy trick, but that is why The Importance of Being Earnest is
considered one of the greatest plays ever written. This attempt turn it
into a light entertainment for today's youthful audiences fails because
this play is not a romantic comedy. It is more precisely a satire of a
romantic comedy. Its point and Wilde's intent was to make fun of
Victorian notions of romance and marrying well and to expose the
mercantile nature of that society. It is probably impossible to
"translate" the play for the contemporary film viewer since a satire of
today's audiences and today's society would require an entirely
different set of rapiers.
Parker's additions to the play only amounted to distractions that
diluted the essence of the play's incomparable wit. Most of Wilde's
witticisms were lost in the glare of Parker's busy work. Recalling Lady
Bracknell as a dance hall girl in her youth who became pregnant before
being wed was ridiculous and not only added nothing, but misinterpreted
her character. Lady Bracknell is not a hypocrite with a compromised
past. She is everything she pretends to be and that is the joke.
Showing Algernon actually running through the streets to escape
creditors or being threatened with debtor's prison was silly and again
missed the point. Algy was "hard up" true and in need of "ready money"
but his bills would be paid. Gwendolyn in goggles and cap driving a
motor car also added nothing and seemed to place the play some years
after the fact.
The big mistake movie directors often make when making a movie from a
stage play is to feel compelled to get the play off the stage and out
into the streets and countryside. Almost always these attempts are
simply distractions. Some of the greatest adaptations–Elia Kazan's A
Streetcar Named Desire from 1951 comes immediately to mind–played it
straight and didn't try anything fancy. Here Parker seems obsessed with
"dressing up" the play. What he does is obscure it.
On the positive side the costumes were beautiful and Anna Massy was an
indelible Miss Prism. Reese Witherspoon at least looked the part of
Cecily and she obviously worked hard. Rupert Evertt had some moments in
the beginning that resembled Wilde's Algernon, but he was not able to
sustain the impersonation.
My recommendation is that you not bother with this production and
instead get the 1952 film starring, in addition to Edith Evans, Michael
Redgrave and Margaret Rutherford. It is essentially true to the play as
Wilde wrote it, and is a pure delight.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut
to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it