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Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Importance of Being Earnest

I've adored The Importance of Being Earnest since I saw it at the theater when I was in college, so when I saw it had been made into a movie in 2002, I added it to my Netflix queue. This version of the story stars Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor and Reese Witherspoon as the four main characters.

The basic story is that Jack Worthing (Colin Firth) has been telling everyone at his country estate that he is going to London to see his unfortunate brother, Ernest. While in London, he's been using the name Ernest. The woman he loves, Gwendolen (Frances O'Connor) has said she could only love a man named Ernest and so the charade continues. Poor Jack is trying to find a way to really take on that name, even going so far as to inquire about being baptized as such.

One person knows the truth, Algernon (Rupert Everett) and he goes out to the country estate, introducing himself as Jack's brother, Ernest. There he meets Jack's ward, Cecily (Reese Witherspoon) who has been enamored of Ernest from the stories she's heard. She's even kept a diary of fictitious events between the two of them, including an engagement. Algy is smitten and proposes.

So two men, both claiming to be Ernest, engaged to women who don't know their real names. Then Gwendolen arrives at the country estate and things quickly careen out of the men's control.

My sum up of the plot probably leaves a lot to be desired, but it's complicated to explain, though it's not nearly as complicated to follow on screen. For a better summary, you might want to check out Wikipedia.

I enjoyed this movie a lot once I stopped comparing it to the theatrical version I'd seen. While there are many things that can be done on film that can't be accomplished in the theater, theater also has advantages. For one thing, there's more immediacy to it. And another plus is that it's an audience experience.

The story itself is clever. Oscar Wilde was a master at wittiness and he pokes fun at the societal mores of Victorian England in a way that's both entertaining and sharp. I thought the cast did a fine job with their characters, especially Dame Judi Dench who had a supporting role as Lady Bracknell.

One thing I didn't like was all the little flashbacks they did to events that had happened in the past. The vignettes weren't more than a few seconds here or there, but I felt it detracted from the story as it was occurring.

The other thing I didn't like was that they added bill collectors coming to the estate because of Ernest's bill at the Savoy. According to Wikipedia, that was a scene that Wilde had cut from the play before publication. As a writer, I'd shudder if someone did that to one of my stories. If I cut something, it's out for a reason. The last thing I'd want was some movie producer 100 years in the future finding the material and using it. Gah!

Overall, though, they did a fine job with Wilde's play. I enjoyed myself immensely.

My Rating: 4 Stars