There is something in Oscar Wilde’s writings that place them among my go-to choices for comedy. Wilde’s brand wasn’t just about making his audience laugh; he also interlaces jarring truths, social bantering and most importantly, humor that cannot be described as anything other than that classy. Miramax had the good fortune of obtaining the rights to two of the most recent adaptations of his works (this and An Ideal Husband), both of which co-starred Rupert Everett. The Importance of Being Earnest is one of those tongue-in-cheek scripts that should have viewers rejoicing in the perfectly played ending coupled with its good old-fashioned laughs.
Jack Worthing (played by the incomparable Colin Firth) is boring. He lives the good life of a country gentleman and enjoys being such. In the county, he owns a sprawling estate and cares for his ward, Cecily (Reese Witherspoon). The only thing presenting Jack’s life with a conundrum is this: he’s fallen in love with Gwendolyn (Frances O’Conner). You see, when he goes up to town, Jack invents an alter-ego, a brother by the name of Earnest. Earnest is the opposite of Jack: he’s irresponsible and leaves a trail of debts everywhere he goes. Things grow more complicated with Jack’s otherwise perfect ruse when his friend (and consequently Gwendolyn’s cousin) Algy (Rupert Everett) learns of his double-life and decides to step into the role of Jack’s brother, Earnest.
Like his other stories, The Importance of Being Earnest is primarily a comedy. This one is less about the social politics of the era (1800’s Victorian), as much of An Ideal Husband dealt with than it is about being a love story mixed with a mystery narrative. The cast alone is sure to tempt any period drama aficionado who has perhaps been on the fence about watching this. The American, Reese Witherspoon performs her character admirably well while affecting a decent accent and Rupert is naturally hilarious, but it’s Colin Firth whose performance is most fun. As someone who met the actor playing Mr. Darcy (1995’s Pride and Prejudice), anytime he plays a character he can have fun with is a pleasure to watch. That’s just what Firth does with this role or seemingly so. There are times when it seems like he can barely keep a straight face particularly in the scenes between himself and Everett. Also among the cast is Anna Massey (trivia fact; she played Mrs. Norris in BBC’s 1983 Mansfield Park) and the supreme performer Judi Dench.
If anyone were to ask me to name one favorite thing about this production, I don’t think I could answer. This is one of those movies I adore everything about. Sure, if I really thought about it, there would probably be something I could nitpick about, but the bigger picture is flawless in my opinion. The pace clips along at a nice canter and the costumes are beautiful. The script is full of amusing quips and brilliant banter. Those wishing for a new romance to entertain will also find plenty of sweet romance to swoon over. The only thing I will say about this film is it is one of those movies you shouldn’t go into with too serious of expectations. It strays away from any slapstick humor preferring the classier perfectly timed kind of hysterics, but there is also a case to be made that the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. Because of this, new viewers shouldn’t either.
Whimsical (Cecily is quite the imaginative dreamer) and dripping in romantics, The Importance of Being Earnest is memorable for a reason. The climactic scene is among some of my favorites. It involves a large black handbag, a missing child, marriage proposals and of course, tying into its title, the question of a name. It not only assembled a first-rate cast to bring its story to life, it has an advantage in combining two of my favorite mediums in film: comedy and period drama. That alone means a film such as this is bound to be kryptonite. My multiple re-watches since can attest to that.
What did you think of The Importance of Being Earnest? Are you a fan of re-watching this one? What’s your favorite Oscar Wilde adaptation? Comment down below with any thoughts.
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
I have loved none but you.”
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