The Importance of Being Earnest was written by the infamous Oscar Wilde and first put on stage in February of 1895. Though short-lived since its premiere in London with only 86 performances, it has since been revived and redone multiple times.
This particular version is an excellent rendition with a cast of great characters that include Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Reese Witherspoon, Francis O’Connor, and Judi Dench. It is a comedy filled with the iconic writing of Oscar Wilde that I frankly admire in spite of the sad treatment and incarceration he received because of his double life that included homosexuality.
It’s a story of two friends, Algy (Algernon Moncrieff) and John aka Jack Worthing, who create characters in their lives so that they can move about freely and come and go as they like. Jack makes up a brother named Earnest so he can use him as an excuse to leave his country home and travel to London. The imaginary brother is always in trouble in one way or the other. However, when he’s in London, he takes on the name of Earnest living a double life.
His friend, Algy, who thinks that Jack’s real name is Earnest, has also invented friend by the name of Bunbury who is always sick. Whenever he wishes to leave town to avoid society and debt collectors, he uses the excuse that Bunbury is ill, and he must attend to his friend elsewhere.
Algy and Jack are aware of each other’s deceptions, which turn into a rather comical outcome. Jack (Colin Firth) is in love with Algy’s cousin, Gwendolen (Frances O’Connor). She adores the name of Earnest because it’s a divine name that produces vibrations. Jack proposes to Gwendolen. When her mother interrupts the scene by walking into the room, she tells him, “Rise from this semi-recumbent posture. It is most indecorous.” Lady Bracknell quickly puts a stop to the engagement when she finds out that even though Earnest is financially well off, he has no family background. In fact, he was an abandoned baby discovered in a handbag at the Victoria Station. Of course, a man without birth isn’t good enough for her daughter.
Algy then proceeds to play a trick on Jack and pretends to be Earnest his fake brother by visiting Jack’s estate in the country. He’s always been keen on meeting Jack’s ward, Cecily (Reese Witherspoon). In a rather comedic twist, Jack suddenly returns home with the ashes of his supposedly dead brother only to be surprised his brother has arrived at the estate. When he discovers Algy is playing the game so he can meet his ward, it becomes a comical scene. Cecily is also obsessed with marrying a man named Earnest (apparently it was a popular name at the time, and the meaning held an important Victorian quality). Algy and her quickly fall in love.
In the meantime, Gwendolen defies her mother and travels to see her Earnest. Upon her arrival, she meets Cecily, and they discover the ruse the men have played. Algy and Jack end up in hot water when the truth comes out that neither possesses the name of Earnest.The ending is a rather convoluted revelation of who Jack is in the scheme of things. In spite of objections and obstacles, everyone ends up with an HEA.
For me, it’s not just an entertaining and light, quirky movie, it’s more of a delightful feast of Oscar Wilde’s immortal lines sprinkled throughout. Some of my favorites are:
- I really don’t see what is so romantic about proposing. One may be accepted – one usually is, I believe – and then the excitement is ended. The very essence of romance is uncertainty.
- My dear fellow, all women become like their mothers, that’s their tragedy. No man does, and that’s his.
- The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her if she pretty and to someone else if she’s plain.
- The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.
- I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate, exotic fruit. Touch it, and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did it would prove a serious threat to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.
There are so many good quotes that I could go on forever. You may need to watch it a few times to pick up all the gems sprinkled throughout. Oscar Wilde possessed a talent for wit and mocking the Victorian system. He was indeed a talented individual.
You will love Colin Firth and Rupert Everett who are a great match in this comedic story of what it means to be earnest For a period movie, it’s a lighthearted addition. Oh, and the costumes and dresses that Dench and O’Connor wear are fantastic, along with their outrageous hats.
Stream on Amazon The Importance of Being Earnest