The Importance of Being Earnest
Was it really necessary to make another version of the timeless Oscar Wilde comedy? Well in all honesty, no. This latest version has a great cast list but still manages to misconstrue the humour in the original source material resulting in a rather lacklustre outing.
The story revolves around two best friends who have both invented imaginary people in order to add some excitement into their lives. Jack Worthing (Colin Firth) invents a fictitious brother who lives in the city. He uses the excuse that heís visiting this brother, called Ernest, whenever he feels the urge to leave his dull country life for the city and visit the love of his life Gwendolyn Fairfax (Frances OíConnor) and who believes him to be called Ernest.
Meanwhile, his best friend Algernon Moncrieff (Rupert Everett) has invented a dying relative, Bumbury, whom he pretends to visit whenever he feels the urge to leave his dull life in the city.
So these two cads carry one with their dull lives interspersed with regular breaks visiting their Ďrelativesí. Jack, when in the country, also spends time as the guardian of Miss Cecily Cardew (Resse Witherspoon) who is the granddaughter of the elderly millionaire who adopted Jack after finding him in a hand basket he was handed in error at the cloakroom in Victoria Station.
Things take a complicated turn when Jack (as Ernest) reveals his feeling for Gwendolyn to her mother, the formidable Lady Bracknell (Judi Dench), who is also incidentally Algernonís aunt. She is most perturbed to discover that Jack has no family history having been discovered in a hand basket.
Due to some complications will finances, Algernon escapes to Jackís country estate and meets Miss Cardew, who he introduces himself to as Ernest. Miss Cardew, in her infatuation with Algernon, agrees to be engaged to him (as Ernest) after a whirlwind romance.
Eventually, all the characters converge at Jacks estate at various times, causing confusion between the Miss Cardew and Gwendolyn who both believe that the Ernest that they are engaged to is the one and the same. Of course with a masquerade to continue Jack/Ernest and Algernon/Ernest try to convince the ladies that they are sincere, even when the stern Lady Bracknell descends upon the estate.
The impressive cast also include other characters played by such heavy weights as Anna Massey (as Miss Cardews teacher and educator Miss Prism), Tom Wilkinson (as Reverend Chasuble) and Edward Fox (as Jackís loyal butler). Colin Firth is excellent as Jack, moving from caring country man to cad about town with ease. Rupert Everett camps it up a little too much as Algernon and loses a lot of the impact of the character. Reese Witherspoonís English accent is very plausible and much better than recent attempts by fellow Americans. The real power house in the acting stakes, comes as no real surprise, Judi Dench, who excels as the boorish Lady Bracknell.
The film is let down by losing the wit and word play that made Oscar Wilde writing a delight. Itís too much of a farce at times and the impact of the writing is much more suitable for the stage than the silver screen. Adapted and directed by Oliver Parker, the film fails to make a solid case by flitting from one scenic setting to the next, giving the film a more modern feel about it. This seriously undermines the pith and sparkle of the original writing. Parker added some awkward flashbacks and a positively embarrassing and startlingly bizarre visualisation of Miss Cardews fantasies. Added to these issues, the music is a little too modern for the type of film and again, detracts from the over all effectiveness of the film.
Overall, the films isnít a complete disaster, or even a total success, it just is a little too much of a nonentity. Parker hasnít really reached the full potential that he could have with this and thatís a real shame as there are some great scenic set pieces and a cast that most directors would die for.
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