Two young gentlemen living in 1890's England use the same pseudonym ("Ernest") on the sly, which is fine until they both fall in love with women using that name, which leads to a comedy of mistaken identities...Written by
This sad disappointment of a movie is what happens when you gather a group of top-notch actors together, give them one of the wittiest and funniest plays in the English language, and then put them under the direction of a film-maker who does not trust his material (which is a shame) and who furthermore believes that by tweaking it he may "improve" on it and render it more palatable for modern audiences (which is a scandal).
To do director Oliver Parker some justice, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is a lighter-than-air comedy of social mores and is -- in its very essence -- not cinematic, but theatrical, as was its creator, Oscar Wilde. The witty absurdities tossed off by Wilde's characters can only truly become airborne in a theatrical milieu. An attentively listening theater audience engages in a sympathetic act of complicity with the actors on stage, one in which "the delighting ear outstrips the wicked tongue." But a movie camera is an eye, not an ear; it cannot provide the necessary complicity that would allow Wilde's arch dialogue to levitate. Robbed of that complicity, the characters die and the dialogue falls flat. Perhaps it is too much to expect this play ever to be given a 100% successful cinematic make-over.
Parker cannot be faulted for trying to translate this play into a cinematic medium; he is, however, guilty of ham-handed 're-writes,' unnecessary excursions, ill-considered excisions, and a feckless attempt to jam his cast into cinematic "dress" that doesn't fit them and that leaves them looking foolish.
Watching this film, I felt badly for all the fine actors ensnared in it. I'm betting Judi Dench has a superb Lady Bracknell somewhere in her... but it isn't on display here.
My advice is to skip this movie if you're considering seeing or renting it. Try the much better '52 Anthony Asquith movie with an amusingly rebarbative Edith Evans at the top of her form.
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