A Wilde Moment

When filmmakers adapt a play sometimes they overcompensate for the stodgy confines of the stage with frenetic energy, too many locations, an obnoxious score and frequent cuts that distract from the  brilliant dialogue and story arc.  [e.g.An Ideal Husband(1999)]

To the other extreme, some films do not take advantage of their more liberating media, and remain  charmingly, but laughably, set-bound. [e.g. The Importance of Being Earnest(1952)]

And then there’s Oliver Parker’s 2002 version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. It’s not a classic movie…yet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t clever. For instance, there are reasons for splitting up the play’s dialogue  into different locations beyond just catering to a modern audience’s supposed restlessness.

2 points

1. The famous scene when Lady Bracknell interrogates her very nervous, prospective son-in-law, Mr. Worthing, is usually set in her nephew’s parlor. In Parker’s version, Worthing must visit Lady Bracknell’s house, passing through an enormous set of doors before stopping at the royal purple/blood-red inner sanctum. The experience is like being caught in a Venus fly trap. Perfect for the scene.     

2. Worthing’s big speech near the finale, accusing his best friend, Algernon, of using deceit to gain admission to his house and stir up everyone’s lives is another brilliant scene. This speech is rather a long-winded one,  and often onstage is spouted while standing in one spot. However, the director here has the character walk about, picking up various objects that serve as “evidence” of Algy’s misconduct. Worthing is rather like an attorney at closing arguments. A funny and clever framing of  potentially dry dialogue.

Yes, play-to-film adaptations can be wonderful when they’re done properly. Parker’s Earnest is one of the best.


  1. I completely disagree. The 'remake' of Earnest cannot hold a candle to the Criterion (that's why it's so good, even Criterion includes it in their catalogue!) remastering of the 1950's film of same. It is a masterpiece of Victorian restraint, technicolor titillation, and marvelous enunciation/characterization.

    -(formerly) AlmostMusicPhD

  2. (formerly) AlmostMusicPhD,
    As an overall piece, the Criterion version remains truer to the original play and tone, that I concede.

    My argument in the post above, however, is that the 1950s version does not take advantage of the liberty that the camera gives, whereas the 2002 version does.

    One could contend that just because one has the freedom to move about one doesn't have to use it, but that's not your argument.

    That's for stopping by.


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