20 May 2010
Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and screen adaptation
Having a Wilde time!
Set amidst the artistocratic excess of the late Victorian era, The Importance of Being Earnest remains one of Ocsar Wilde's most popular and enduring plays. The play is about two characters who take on fictitious names to escape needless obligations in their society. Algernon (Algie) and Earnest Worthing are friends, with a penchant for the good life. Earnest is in love with Algie's cousin, Gwendolen, who in turn is controlled by her imposing mother, Lady Bracknell.
Meanwhile, Algie discovers that Earnest has a young ward called Cecily Cardew living in the country side. When cornered, Earnest reveals that his actual name is John Worthing and he has created a fictitious brother called Earnest - who he comes to meet in the town - so that he can enjoy his life in London, without compromosing his respectable image back home. Algie tells Earnest that he too has a fictitious friend called Bunbury, an invalid who Algie goes to visit in the country whenever he wishes to escape his aunt Lady Bracknell's boring parties.
Gwendolen loves Earnest more for his name than anything else, she insists. She wants to marry him but her mother puts her foot down when she learns that Earnest has no living parents and in fact, was found as a baby in a leather bag at a railway station. So unless Earnest produces at least one parent Lady Brackwell will hear nothing about the proposal.
Meanwhile, Algie lands up in the country as John's brother - Earnest-- and instantly falls for Cecily. But there are confusions galore, as both Gwendolen and Cecily are now in love with two different men called 'Earnest'
The plot can appear complicated, but it is a finely constructed comedy of manners, bristling with some of Wilde's most humorous quotes.
The play was adapted into a film in 1952 and later in 2002 by Oliver Parker, who also brought to screen Oscar Wilde's other play, An Ideal Husband. The Importance of Earnest has a wonderful cast comprising Rupert Everette, Colin Firth, Frances O'cConnor, Reese Witherspoon and Judi Dench. Parker makes very minor changes to the original, retaining all the famous lines - though the use of too many wise-cracks in quick succession appears a tad forced and stilted when you hear it in a film. Parker embellishes the film with a few extra scenes - like the strip club scenes - which is needless and makes the drama too literal. On the other hand, the scene where lady Bracknell grills Earnest at her mansion is very effective.
Among the performances, Reese Witherspoon shines as Cecily. But it's Judy Dench - as the domineering Lady Bracknell who chews up the screen each time she appears. It's a delight to watch her mouth some of Wilde's best written lines, tinged with delicious irony. When Earnest refuses permission for Cecily to marry Algy, until she turns 35, Lady Bracknell asserts her view with dead-pan smugness. "London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years."
The play is ultimately a light satire of Victorian ways and upper class foibles, and a comic masterpiece that is sure to delight generations to come. The film won't disappoint you either.
Posted by Sandhya Iyer at 20:18