Algy and Jack discover that they have both been "Bunberrying", that is, assuming different identities in order to enjoy themselves in a guilt-free manner. Jack's pretending to be his ... See full summary »
Algy and Jack discover that they have both been "Bunberrying", that is, assuming different identities in order to enjoy themselves in a guilt-free manner. Jack's pretending to be his foolish younger brother, Ernest in order to be a model of moral rectitude to his young ward, Cecily. Jack intends to propose to Gwendolyn--that is until he discovers that she loves him because his name is Ernest. He sets about being rechristened. And when Cecily intends to meet her bad cousin Ernest, and Algy seizes the opportunity, it will take the imperious Lady Bracknell, Miss Prism's recollections about her handbag, and an army list to clear the matter up, and allow true love to run its course. Written by
Oscar Wilde's "Importance of Being Ernest" is indisputably one of the great comedies, frothy with nonsense and, with William Gilbert's libretti, just about the only survivor from the Victorian stage that is regularly performed. Some of the allusions may be dated, but the plot itself holds up admirably.
The play was given superb treatment in the movies in 1952 with an A-list cast including Michael Regrave, Edith Evans, Michael Denison, Joan Greenwood, Miles Malleson, and Margaret Rutherford. The younger lovers were all much older than their roles required, and were played with the sort of delicacy and panache unlikely in younger actors ("Ernest" Worthing was 29 while Michael Redgrave was in his mid forties). Only Dorthy Tutin, in her early twenties, was close to the age of the 18 year old Cicily. Needless to say, the older actors (Rutherford, Malleson, Evans), all experienced old pros who were born in the Victorian era, were exquisitely perfect in their parts.
Unfortunately, for length, there were some cuts in the text.
The adaptation of 1986 with Frazer, McGann, Plowright, Ogle and Redman is pallid by comparison, but stands up on its own as a fine, set-bound full version of the play. It starts with Frazer a letter-perfect Algernon and McGann a less than powerful "Ernest" Worthing, but Plowright (Mrs. Laurence Olivier) does her best to fill Evans' shoes and the well-known first act trickles on with little damage to Wilde. This version picks up steam at the Worthing country manor, and finds its pace with the meeting of Algernon and "Ernest"; with the confrontation between Cicely and Gwendolyn it never looks back and takes no prisoners. When all the characters appear for the finale, it winds down to the inevitable but still amusing conclusion.
Anyone who wants a version of the play uncut and undoctored (from what I've heard the Rupert Everett version was disastrously tampered with) needs to add this to their collection. The only caveat is with the acting. McGann is a good actor but he doesn't seem to have much power as "Ernest". Perhaps he's trying too hard to not make it seem, as with so many versions, he's just repeating all Wilde's famous quotes, attempting to wrest "Ernest" from being just a museum piece it's sometimes played as. Redman is sometimes very good and sometimes is dangerously close to mugging. Ogle is a welcome surprise as Cicely.
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