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Should I see this film? It is rather Quixotic... but I think you should try.
Wealthy London bachelor Jack Worthing falls for Gwendolen, cousin of London socialite Algy, who has in turn fallen for Jack's ward, Cecily. Amongst other barriers to both relationships is the determination of both ladies to marry men called Ernest, leading Algy and Jack to pretend that Ernest is, indeed, their given name. Another stumbling block is the ubiquitous Lady Bracknell, Algy's aunt and Gwendolen's mother, who refuses to accept Jack as a suitor for her daughter because he was a foundling, discovered as a baby in a handbag at Victoria Station. Playwright Oscar Wilde put into Lady Bracknell's mouth some of the most delicious comments in stage history: "To be born, or at any rate bred, in a handbag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution".
The story follows the ups and downs and deceits of the two men whilst they pursue Gwendolen and Cecily, dogged by Algy's creditors and Lady Bracknell, whose opposition to Jack's origins proves insurmountable. On the way we learn of Jack's brother who does not exist yet manages to die in a Paris boarding house, and Algy's invalid friend Bunbury who also never drew breath yet nevertheless explodes on the advice of his physician. The situation remains unresolved until the final scene, when all the protagonists have collided at Jack's country estate.
This interpretation of Oscar Wilde's play may not suit purists. Oliver Parker takes a few liberties with the original, adding a couple of off-the-wall touches such as Gwendolen having "Ernest" tattooed on her rear end. None of this detracts from the film precisely because this is a film and not a filmed play and as a stand-alone movie this is highly enjoyable fare and remains graced by Wilde's eternal and inimitable wit.
The cast, too, is outstanding. Reese Witherspoon as Cecily mastered an English accent and, along with Colin Firth as Jack, Frances O'Connor as Gwendolen and Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell (Aunt Augusta), is first-rate; the film also boasts Edward Fox, Tom Wilkinson and Anna Massey in supporting roles. Lastly, no-one plays Wilde's nihilistic, aristocratic and insouciant wasters quite like Rupert Everett, who was designed for such parts.
Oscar Wilde's play is timeless and priceless and his wit dominates the proceedings; matched to a cast with the acting talent of this troupe, it does not fail. Wilde and English period drawing room comedies are an acquired taste and, for those unsure of their nature, can be distinguished by the conspicuous absence of gunfire, vulgar Anglo-Saxonisms, explosions, wizards, references to def-con 2, giants, breasts, giant breasts and Steven Seagal: if any of these is your cup of tea, look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you want to watch a team of gifted actors delivering with great aplomb some of the smartest dialogue in English literary history, The Importance of Being Earnest is not a bad way to spend an hour or two.
"Is Miss Cardew at all connected with any of the larger railway stations in London? I only ask because until yesterday I had no idea that there were any families or persons whose origin was a terminus."
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