Oliver Parker takes an interesting approach when it comes to adapting The Importance of Being Earnest from play to screen. He doesn’t worry much about opening up the film; at the beginning of the film, he showcases late nineteenth century London and later does quite a bit with Colin Firth’s country estate… but during the lengthy, dialogue-heavy scenes, he just lets the dialogue do its work.
The playfulness of the dialogue, the combination of sincerity and humor the cast imbues in it, makes Earnest seem open even when it’s closed. Tony Pierce-Roberts’s sumptuous photography and Charlie Mole’s playful music help quite a bit–and there are some distinct, memorable outdoor sequences (not to mention a singing montage). It’s quite an interesting adaptation.
Of the two male leads–Firth and Rupert Everett–Everett gets to have more fun. It’s appropriate, because of their love interests–Frances O’Connor for Firth and Reese Witherspoon for Everett–O’Connor gets to have more fun. It all balances out.
The film moves through a few phases, with the focus switching between Everett and Firth, before it becomes their dual effort to win back their love interests. That structure also allows for some nice scenes with O’Connor and Witherspoon. O’Connor and Everett are outstanding.
There’s some nice support from Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Anna Massey and Edward Fox.
As the film winds down and the contrivances stack up, it does appear a little flimsy. Luckily, Parker saves some good jokes for the finale and recovers.
Directed by Oliver Parker; screenplay by Parker, based on the play by Oscar Wilde; director of photography, Tony Pierce-Roberts; edited by Guy Bensley; music by Charlie Mole; production designer, Luciana Arrighi; produced by Barnaby Thompson; released by Miramax Films.
Starring Rupert Everett (Algy Moncrieff), Colin Firth (Jack Worthing), Frances O’Connor (Gwendolen Fairfax), Reese Witherspoon (Cecily Cardew), Judi Dench (Lady Augusta Bracknell), Tom Wilkinson (Dr. Chasuble), Anna Massey (Miss Prism) and Edward Fox (Lane).