Despite a few tweaks to Oscar Wilde's frighteningly witty play, director and writer Anthony Asquith serves up a truly delightful screen version of "The Importance of Being Earnest".
The complaint of the time, and occasionally since, is that Asquith's direction is mired in theatrical rather than cinematic technique. Those who offer such criticisms are clearly missing the point. Weaker films ultimately demand a greater use of the camera. But "Earnest" is built upon a delightful play of words, misunderstanding and confusion that intertwine and incredibly deliver a conclusion, all with consummately elegant wit.
Filmed in unashamedly glorious Technicolor, the film follows the play's three acts, each divided by the lowering of a red curtain. Events are set in the seemingly carefree world of Victorian England where the two young and wealthy dandies of the piece, the earnest Jack Worthing (Redgrave) and the dashing Algernon Moncrieff (Denison) dwell.
Jack is in love with the delightful Gwendolen Fairfax (Greenwood), whom he courts in the city under the name of Ernest. Unfortunately Algernon falls for Jack's ward Cecily (Tutin) and in an attempt to woo her, he pretends to be Jack's brother Ernest.
Complications naturally abound from this farcical situation with Gwendolen's mother, the fearsome Lady Bracknell (Evans) bitterly opposing any union due to Jack having been found as an orphaned baby in a handbag.
All the performances are a sheer delight to watch with plaudits going to Margaret Rutherford as the wonderfully dotty Miss Prism and Edith Evans as the formidable Lady Bracknell.
November 30th 2000 marks the centenary of Oscar Wilde's death
Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray".
"Wilde" starring Stephen Fry.