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The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)

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In 1890s London, two friends use the same pseudonym ("Ernest") for their on-the-sly activities. Hilarity ensues.

Director:

Oliver Parker

Writers:

Oscar Wilde (play), Oliver Parker (screenplay)
2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Rupert Everett ... Algy
Colin Firth ... Jack
Frances O'Connor ... Gwendolen
Reese Witherspoon ... Cecily
Judi Dench ... Lady Bracknell
Tom Wilkinson ... Dr. Chasuble
Anna Massey ... Miss Prism
Edward Fox ... Lane
Patrick Godfrey ... Merriman
Charles Kay ... Gribsby
Cyril Shaps ... Pew Opener
Marsha Fitzalan ... Dowager
Finty Williams ... Young Lady Bracknell
Guy Bensley Guy Bensley ... Young Lord Bracknell
Christina Robert Christina Robert ... Duchess of Devonshire
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Storyline

Two young gentlemen living in 1890's England use the same pseudonym ("Ernest") on the sly, which is fine until they both fall in love with women using that name, which leads to a comedy of mistaken identities... Written by arson83

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Everybody Loves Ernest... But Nobody's Quite Sure Who He Really Is.

Genres:

Comedy | Drama | Romance

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for mild sensuality | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Official Sites:

Official Facebook | Official site | See more »

Country:

UK | USA

Language:

English | German

Release Date:

21 June 2002 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Ernst sein ist alles See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$15,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$500,447, 27 May 2002

Gross USA:

$8,384,929

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$18,009,625
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Finty Williams, who plays Lady Bracknell as a young dancer, is the daughter of Dame Judi Dench, who plays the older Lady Bracknell. See more »

Goofs

In the scene where Algy comes upon his servants playing music together, the banjo shown is a modern "bluegrass style" banjo with 5 strings and a resonator. At the time this movie was set, the banjo was a popular instrument, but it would have been the 4 string, open backed type. See more »

Quotes

Algy: [to Jack] You are *the* most advanced Bunburyist I know.
See more »

Crazy Credits

After the funeral for Bunbury, Colin Firth's Earnest is seen getting a tattoo of "Gwendolyn" on his posterior See more »

Connections

Referenced in Rifftrax: Wide World of Shorts (2010) See more »

Soundtracks

Lady Come Down
Music written by Charlie Mole
Lyrics by Oscar Wilde
Performed by Colin Firth and Rupert Everett
Courtesy of Fragile Music Ltd.
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A misinterpretation
21 April 2003 | by DeeNine-2See all my reviews

This is an inventive and artful production of Oscar Wilde's play, but I can confidently say that were Oscar Wilde alive today, he would be appalled at the misuse to which his play has been put. Indeed I think I feel the ground rumbling as he rolls over in his grave, and yes he is actually spinning in anguish.

Oliver Parker, who directed and wrote the screen adaptation, simply misinterpreted the play. He focused on the "dashing young bachelors" when the real focus of the play is Lady Bracknell, the absurd and beautifully ironic representation of the Victorian mind who was then and has been for over a hundred years Wilde's singular creation and one of the great characters of English literature. She is supposed to steal every scene she is in and we are to double take everyone of her speeches as we feel that she is simultaneous absurd and exactly right. Instead Judi Dench's Lady Bracknell (and I don't blame Dench who is a fine actress) is harsh and stern and literal to the point of being a controlling matriarch when what Wilde had in mind was somebody who was both pompous and almost idiotic yet capable of a penetrating and cynical wisdom (so like the author's). Compared to Dane Edith Evans's brilliant performance in the celebrated cinematic production from 1952, Dench's Lady Bracknell is positively one-dimensional.

The point of Wilde's play was to simultaneously delight and satirize the Victorian audience who came to watch the play. This is the genius of the play: the play-goer might view all of the values of bourgeois society upheld while at the same time they are being made fun of. Not an easy trick, but that is why The Importance of Being Earnest is considered one of the greatest plays ever written. This attempt turn it into a light entertainment for today's youthful audiences fails because this play is not a romantic comedy. It is more precisely a satire of a romantic comedy. Its point and Wilde's intent was to make fun of Victorian notions of romance and marrying well and to expose the mercantile nature of that society. It is probably impossible to "translate" the play for the contemporary film viewer since a satire of today's audiences and today's society would require an entirely different set of rapiers.

Parker's additions to the play only amounted to distractions that diluted the essence of the play's incomparable wit. Most of Wilde's witticisms were lost in the glare of Parker's busy work. Recalling Lady Bracknell as a dance hall girl in her youth who became pregnant before being wed was ridiculous and not only added nothing, but misinterpreted her character. Lady Bracknell is not a hypocrite with a compromised past. She is everything she pretends to be and that is the joke. Showing Algernon actually running through the streets to escape creditors or being threatened with debtor's prison was silly and again missed the point. Algy was "hard up" true and in need of "ready money" but his bills would be paid. Gwendolyn in goggles and cap driving a motor car also added nothing and seemed to place the play some years after the fact.

The big mistake movie directors often make when making a movie from a stage play is to feel compelled to get the play off the stage and out into the streets and countryside. Almost always these attempts are simply distractions. Some of the greatest adaptations--Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire from 1951 comes immediately to mind--played it straight and didn't try anything fancy. Here Parker seems obsessed with "dressing up" the play. What he does is obscure it.

On the positive side the costumes were beautiful and Anna Massy was an indelible Miss Prism. Reese Witherspoon at least looked the part of Cecily and she obviously worked hard. Rupert Evertt had some moments in the beginning that resembled Wilde's Algernon, but he was not able to sustain the impersonation.

My recommendation is that you not bother with this production and instead get the 1952 film starring, in addition to Edith Evans, Michael Redgrave and Margaret Rutherford. It is essentially true to the play as Wilde wrote it, and is a pure delight.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)


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