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The Importance of Being Earnest (1986)

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 »


Stuart Burge


Oscar Wilde (play)

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Complete credited cast:
John Woodnutt ... Lane
Rupert Frazer Rupert Frazer ... Algy
Paul McGann ... Jack
Joan Plowright ... Lady Bracknell
Amanda Redman ... Gwendolen
Gemma Jones ... Miss Prism
Natalie Ogle ... Cecily
Alec McCowen ... Dr. Chasuble
John Quarmby ... Merriman
Peter Copley ... Gribsby


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 Kathy Li

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Plot Keywords:

farce | based on play | See All (2) »









Release Date:

29 May 1988 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Theatre Night: The Importance of Being Earnest See more »

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Did You Know?


The premiere Broadway production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" opened at the Lyceum Theater (New York City) on April 22, 1895, ran for 12 performances and has been revived in New York City eight times since as of 2010. See more »


(at around 1h 40 mins) just after Miss Prism says 'there is the lady who can tell you who you really are', a microphone can be seen at the top of the screen. See more »


Version of The United States Steel Hour: Who's Earnest? (1957) See more »

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User Reviews

One of Oscar Wilde's wittiest plays
29 January 2007 | by howard.schumannSee all my reviews

One of Oscar Wilde's wittiest and most epigrammatic plays, The Importance of Being Earnest, is given a rousing performance in a BBC production that is one part of The Oscar Wilde Collection, a four-part collection that also features The Picture of Dorian Gray, An Ideal Husband, and Lady Windermere's Fan. Earnest was the last of Mr. Wilde's plays and is considered his best. It premiered in 1895 to mostly critical acclaim with the exception of George Bernard Shaw who was amused but untouched. The advertising for the play stopped, however, after Mr. Wilde's sex scandal and disappeared after a run of only three months but was revived again after the author's death in 1900.

The play, more a farce than a comedy, shows the hypocrisy of the upper crust of Victorian society and ridicules their Puritan ideals. In the BBC production, Paul McGann is Jack Worthing, a rich orphan of 28 who has invented a brother named Earnest that he uses as a means of escape. He is Jack when in the country and calls himself Earnest when in town to court the woman he loves, Gwendolyn Fairfax (Amanda Redman) who loves him because she thinks he is Earnest.

Standing in the way of their marriage is the haughty Lady Bracknell, played with over-the-top gusto by the great Joan Plowright. Lady Bracknell refuses to consent to the marriage because Jack is an orphan who was found in a handbag discovered in a cloakroom at Victoria Station, Brighton Line. Lady Bracknell tells him, "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness!"

The witticisms and one-liners come so fast that it is often necessary to back up and hear them again. One exchange between Lady Bracknell and Jack Worthing goes like this:

LB: "A man who desires to marry should know everything or nothing. Which do you know?"

JW: "I know nothing."

LB: "I am pleased. I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance."

Both Jack and his friend Algernon(Algie) Moncrieff (Rupert Frazer) have invented imaginary people in their lives. Algie conjures up a friend named Bunbury to visit when he wants to leave the city for the country. To complicate matters, Algie, pretends to be Jack's lost brother Earnest and falls in love with Cecily, Jack's 18-year old ward. The web becomes even more tangled when Jack and Gwendolyn show up and mass confusion reigns. A totally absurd scene between Lady Bracknell, Cecily's tutor Miss Prism, and the two couples is needed to clear the air.

While I haven't seen the Asquith 1952 version which is supposed to be definitive, the cast in this version does an outstanding job, especially Joan Plowright as the imperious Lady Bracknell and Paul McGann as the high spirited Jack Moncrieff. On the other hand, Rupert Frazer as Algie seems too mannered and effeminate to be convincing as the lover of young Cecily. Regardless, time spent drinking in the wit and wisdom of Oscar Wilde can only be called delightful.

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