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Movie Review: The Importance Of Being Earnest (2002)

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Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest revolves around two Victorian gentlemen who each maintain separate lies. Jack Worthing leads a double life as he pretends to be Ernest Worthing in the city while using his real name at his country estate, whereas Algernon Moncrieff pretends that he has an elderly relative in the country that he has to attend to in order to escape dinner invites.

The two are good friends, and each has a good looking lady in his life who has fallen for the other man (Algernon’s cousin has fallen for Jack “Ernest” Worthing and Jack’s ward has fallen for Algernon). Really, the plot is quite awkward to explain without dissecting the whole thing and I suggest that you either watch the play or see the film to fully appreciate it for yourself.

Some Incredibly Fine Men...The 2002 film adaptation of Wilde’s play stars Colin Firth (Bridget Jones’ Diary, possibly every Brit-com ever), Judi Dench (Shakespeare In Love, As Time Goes By, and the James Bond series) and Tom Wilkinson (The Full Monty, also Shakespeare In Love and Batman Begins), among others. Judi Dench played the part of Algernon’s aunt very well and the role was well cast. Indeed, leafing through my copy of The Importance Of Being Earnest, I feel that all the roles were well cast and I can hear the actors’ voices speaking the lines (a rare experience for me, I tend to either hear my own voice or none at all) when I read them.

For the layman (and make no mistake, I am a layman in such matters) it can be hard to see how a 68-page play can be adapted so well into a 90-minute movie, but it was. Both play and film contain the trademark Wilde wit and quotables. While he is by no means my favourite author, his work is still enough to raise a hearty laugh now and then. It’s easy to see why others admire him so much and why he’s still popular after more than 100 years. I liked the only other work of his that I’ve experienced, The Picture Of Dorian Gray, but I felt this was better as it was funnier and was almost like watching a masterclass in writing farce.

Earlier I mentioned that I have a copy of The Importance Of Being Earnest. I do have one, as seeing this film encouraged me to go out and buy it the next day. (I bought from the Penguin Classics range, as they are both cheap and free of boring introductions that don’t add anything and wallow in symbolism.) I feel that it’s always good when adaptations encourage people to seek out the source material as well so they can appreciate the work in another medium. From what I’ve read of it so far, the adaptation process doesn’t seem to have lost much; it seems to be a word for word adaptation with very little changed. No doubt the play was originally intended as an enjoyable way to spend an evening with friends and laughter; it’s nice to see that this film has achieved that aim.

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