Reviewer's Rating 2 out of 5   User Rating 4 out of 5
The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)

The last time Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" was filmed, by Anthony Asquith in 1952, the result was unashamedly stage-bound.

Now, Oliver Parker has gone in the opposite direction, fervently opening-up the action at every opportunity. With mixed results.

The scene is set with frenetic exchanges of dialogue between Wilde's late-Victorian heroes - Colin Firth's Jack Worthing and Rupert Everett's Algy Moncrieff - which are presented in a dizzying array of sumptuous London locations.

Things calm down when we reach the Hertfordshire countryside, where Jack and Algy's courtship of Frances O'Connor's Gwendolen and Reese Witherspoon's Cecily runs into trouble.

Mainly because both have adopted the identity of Jack's non-existent brother 'Ernest' to conduct their wooing.

The biggest obstacle to the lovers' happiness, however, is Judi Dench's formidable Lady Bracknell. Dench, as you might expect, is completely assured in the role, though she departs significantly from its most famous interpreter - the imperious Edith Evans.

Where Evans pronounced the play's best-known line with a loud bellow, Dench delivers "A handbag?" with an appalled gasp.

The other actors (with the exception of Edward Fox's droll man-servant) fare less well.

Australian O'Connor has the edge over American Witherspoon; Firth is disappointing; while Everett, so good in Parker's previous Wilde adaptation "An Ideal Husband", is here guilty of some furious mugging.

The cast isn't helped by Parker's overheated direction, which destroys the poise and rhythm of Wilde's dialogue. Again and again, the jokes are laboured, pricking the playwright's "bubble of fancy".

Handled correctly, Wilde's play is a masterpiece of elegant wit and artifice. Here, alas, it collapses like an overcooked soufflé.

End Credits

Director: Oliver Parker

Writer: Oliver Parker

Stars: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson

Genre: Comedy

Length: 98 minutes

Cinema: 6 September 2002

Country: USA/UK

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