Directed Oliver Parker.
Running Time: 97 mins
With such a star-studded cast, Oscar Widle's great play and a stunning English production, how could this film miss? The good news is that it doesn't, and The Importance of Being Earnest provides a very entertaining experience for people of all ages.
When the financially challenged Algy Moncrief (Everett) needs to hide from his creditors or his family he says he is going to visit his chronically ill friend Bunbury. When his best friend Jack Worthing (Firth) needs to escape his country manor to see his would-be fiancé, Gwendolen (O'Connor), he tells his ward Cecily Cardew (Witherspoon) that he must see Earnest, his troubled brother in London. The problem is that in the city Jack has told Gwendolen he is Earnest while Algy escapes to Jack's country house pretending to be Earnest as well. Jack must deal with Lady Bracknell (Dench) to secure Gwendolen's hand while Algy falls hopelessly in love with Cecily. But who is in love with whom?
The Importance of Being Earnest is a witty and multi-layered work lavishly bought the screen by producer Barnaby Thompson. The British do period drama better than anyone else in the world and so this film is worth seeing just for the art direction, locations, set dressing and costumes.
The acting is as well judged as we could expect from the English veterans, but the Americans Witherspoon and O'Connor are equally good as the objects of both Earnest's desires.
At the centre of the drama, however, is the very serious issue of kidnapping. A contemporary play write could not get away with dealing with such a grave matter in so light a manner. Wilde uses it to explore the overstated Victorian attachment to names, identity, pedigree and the value of money. His play was a biting social satire in its day. In certain circles what's changed today? This film makes the ever-modern observation that the thing about which we should be most earnest is being true to oneself.
Richard Leonard SJ