Monday, October 22, 2012

#798. The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)

Directed By: Oliver Parker

Starring: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor

Tag line: "Everybody Loves Ernest... But Nobody's Quite Sure Who He Really Is"

Trivia:  While Reese Witherspoon was learning her English accent for this movie, her husband, Ryan Phillippe was learning a Scottish accent for his role in Gosford Park

Oscar Wilde’s whimsical 1895 play, The Importance of Being Earnest, is brought to the screen yet again in this 2002 film directed by Oliver Parker, featuring a well-known cast who, from the looks of it, were having the time of their lives.

It’s the 19th century. Jack (Colin Firth), an aristocratic English gentleman, resides in a large country estate with his young ward, Cecily (Reese Witherspoon). On occasion, Jack is summoned to London to deal with his rogue of a younger brother, Ernest, who lives in the city and gets into all sorts of mischief. What nobody realizes is that Jack himself is Ernest, a pseudonym he adopts whenever he’s in town. As Ernest, the straight-laced Jack can drop his prim and proper personality to become the perfect cad, skipping out on restaurant bills and causing mayhem throughout all of London. His friend, Algy (Rupert Everett), has been filled in on Jack’s double life (though, to that point, he’d only known him as Ernest), while Algy’s cousin, Gwendolyn (Frances O’Conner), is the apple of Jack/Ernest’s eye. The problem is that Gwendolyn’s mother, Lady Bracknell (Dame Judi Dench) is none too impressed with ‘Ernest’, and refuses to allow him to court her daughter. Things are further complicated when Algy, intent on meeting the pretty Cecily, shows up at Jack’s estate in the country and announces that he’s Jack’s oft-troubled brother, Ernest. With Jack dating Gwendolyn, Algy wooing Cecily, and both women convinced their significant other is named Ernest, the whole situation quickly becomes a very messy affair.

The entire cast of The Importance of Being Earnest is superb, with Dame Judi Dench (at her most unreasonable) stealing the show whenever she’s on-screen. Upon learning that Jack/Ernest’s parents died when he was an infant, her Lady Bracknell, unmoved by this tale of woe, says “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness”. Along with the five leads, The Importance of Being Earnest co-stars Anna Massey as Miss Prism, Cecily’s over-stuffed language teacher, and Tom Wilkinson as Dr. Chasuble, a minister who has the hots for Miss Prism, both of whom are equally as notable.

With a story that twists and turns in a number of directions, The Importance of Being Earnest is never boring, and remains, at all times, a lighthearted bit of fun.


Anthony said...

I am probably being unfair to this movie, which I'm sure is deserving, but I was raised on the version from the 1950s (Joan Greenwood, Michael Redgrave, Edith Evans, Margaret Rutherford) and I think I'm going to stick with that one. The play is, of course, wonderful in any version.

(Did I mention Joan Greenwood?)

"While Reese Witherspoon was learning her English accent for this movie, her husband, Ryan Phillippe was learning a Scottish accent for his role in Gosford Park." True, but he was learning a fake Scottish accent that everybody in the movie could tell was a phony, so that was probably easier than learning one that would sound real. :-)

There is one great line in the Wilde play that didn't make it into the movie for some reason, and I liked it so much that I used it in a story I wrote. In French. :-)

Trivia: why does The Great Tyrant in Barbarella have such a sexy voice? Because it was dubbed by Joan Greenwood.

Dave B. said...

@Anthony: The original is definitely a classic, and the definitive take on the play. But I found this version to be a lot of fun as well.

And your point on Ryan Phillippe and GOSFORD PARK is well taken. You're correct... he was learning a BAD accent for that role, which makes Reese's accomplishment more impressive.

And thanks for that bit of trivia. Couldn't agree with you more.