Showing even more cheek than he did in reinterpreting Shakespeare's "Othello"as an erotic thriller in 1995, screenwriter-director Oliver Parker's second feature film is an audaciouslyre-written -- and in some ways improved -- version of "An Ideal Husband,"Oscar Wilde's drawing room comedy of politics, marriage and blackmail.
A view askew English Lit redeaux that will likely gallpurist, enchant those who don't know the difference, and at least amuseeveryone in between, Parker's perfectly-cast "Ideal Husband"may not be pure Wilde -- the director adds his own subplots and createswhole scenes from events only implied in the play -- but it preserves what'simportant: The playwright's unmistakable insight and always delightfulwit.
The film opens with the curtains drawing back on the bedof resolute bachelor Lord Goring (Rupert Everett), who is saying goodbyeto a pretty overnight guest. Just to look at Everett in this role is torealize that he is the most consummate Oscar Wilde performer ever. Charming,aristocratic, handsome, smug, sharp-tongued but distinguished, he setsthe tone for his character's views toward society, and especially towardmarriage, in this first scene, saying, his voice dripping with irony, "Otherpeople are quite dreadful. To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelongromance."
Goring is the steadiest head in a story, even if he isnarcissistic and "the idlest man in London." While the rest ofthe characters are pre-occupied with extortion, society and affairs ofthe heart, he is always ready with adventurous solutions to others' problems,or at the very least a clever quip. And he is called on for such solutionsregularly by the rest of this picture's dream cast.
Jeremy Northam, who gave such a stunning performance recentlyin "TheWinslow Boy," plays Sir Robert Chiltern,a rising politician and practiced English gentleman with a single, darksecret from his past that is about to be exploited. Sir Robert, the titlecharacter and really the center of the story, turns to his good friendGoring for help.
The beautiful Cate Blanchett ("Elizabeth"),a sublime chameleon of an actress, is Gertrude, Sir Robert's concernedand conservative wife, who also looks to Goring, her dearest friend, fora shoulder when the imminent scandal disrupts her storybook marriage.
The blackmailer Mrs. Cheveley is played with wicked enthusiasmby Julianne Moore as the feminine equivalent of the mustache-twirling villainwith a political agenda. Deliciously manipulative, she offers to abandonher scheme against honorable Sir Robert if Goring will marry her, a prospecthe is determined to avoid no matter who the bride might be. In one of Parker'sflourishes, he proposes a bet (with the same stakes) on Sir Robert's integrityinstead.
Only poor, smitten Mabel, Sir Robert's younger sister playedwith alluring insecurity by Minnie Driver, lacks for Lord Goring's attention-- mostly because she wants it so badly.
Parker's take on Wilde's play deliberately emphasizes themesthat are as prevalent now as they were when "An Ideal Husband"debuted 100 years ago (political scandal, the moral gorge of capitalismrun rampant). But such themes, while sometimes overly obvious, take a backseat to Wilde's chirpy comedy, which the film nails perfectly.
A very handsome affair to be sure, with gorgeous costumes,sets and photography, "An Ideal Husband" is a little uneven andsome of the plot developments come out of nowhere (Goring's realizationthat he loves Mabel) or are based largely on silly misunderstandings. Butthat is as much Wilde's fault as it is Parker's, and it's clear the directoradores this work he has so brazenly toyed with.
The fact that the film's augmented climax is followed byanother 10 awkward minutes of story is all Parker's doing through his restructuringof the script. This anti-climax, while still engaging and especially jocular,gives the film an odd shape that might have audience members checking theirwatches and scratching their heads.
Whether his changes (which do tie up some of Wilde's loseends) disparage or improve upon the original work may become a topic ofgreat debate among theater and literature types, but there is no denyingWilde's wonderfully polite yet scathing social satire remains intact, thanksin part to an ideal cast -- and that's the best reason to see "AnIdeal Husband."
Run time: 30 mins
In Theaters: Friday 25th February 1955
Box Office Worldwide: $18.5M
Production compaines: Miramax Films, Pyramide Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Director: Oliver Parker
Starring: Cate Blanchett as Lady Gertrude Chiltern, Minnie Driver as Miss Mabel Chiltern, Rupert Everett as Lord Arthur Goring, Julianne Moore as Mrs. Laura Cheveley, Jeremy Northam as Sir Robert Chiltern, Peter Vaughan as Phipps
Also starring: Jeremy Northan