THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST **
CAST: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor,
Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Anna Massey, Edward
Fox, Charles Kay
DIRECTOR: Oliver Parker
The important thing to remember when turning Oscar Wilde's sublimely
amusing play into a movie is that it should be funny, not silly.
Anthony Asquith, a director admired more for his efficient craftsmanship
than his comic flair, kept that in mind and managed to get quite
a few laughs back in 1952 from the triumphantly trivial story of
two Victorian bachelors who lead frantic double lives in order to
stave off tedium and to advance their oddball romantic agendas.
Asquith certainly wasn't hindered in his efforts by a cast that
included Michael Redgrave and Michael Denison as the deceitful Jack
and Algernon, Joan Greenwood and Dorothy Tutin as Gwendolen and
Cecily, the women they've targeted for marriage, Edith Evans as
Lady Bracknell, the most imperious of social snobs, and Margaret
Rutherford as the bungling Miss Prism, who left baby Jack in a handbag
in Victoria Station.
If it worked 50 years ago, why shouldn't it work today? It should,
but it seldom does in this strained, cutesy, busily cinematic interpretation
by Oliver Parker, who previously dusted off Wilde's "An Ideal Husband"
for the benefit of the great movie masses. He's certainly opened
things up--there's plenty of camera moving-and-jumping, but very
little visual wit. Worse, the verbal wit in many instances has been
blunted, lost in the rush of actors running wildly, but not Wildely,
about instead of settling down to the elegant, splendidly theatrical
business at hand. True, Judi Dench is entertaining, if not particularly
subtle, as the manipulative Lady Bracknell; Anna Massey is a joy
as Miss Prism; Tom Wilkinson is fine as her foolish suitor; and
Rupert Everett is Rupert Everett. What about all-American Reese
Witherspoon in the role of flighty, virginal Cecily? She gives it
her best shot, but she'll never be legally Brit.