Monday, March 4, 2013

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)

Finally, after wanting to watch this movie, I caught it on TV one weekend! I had heard about this movie around the blogging world and wanted to see it for quite some time. I never read The Importance of Being Earnest, but in my one acting class, one group had to do a scene from there, and since it seemed amusing, I'd thought I'd give the movie a try. Plus, it has Colin Firth in it! (Okay, there were also some other period drama actors/actresses that I liked in there as well).
Box Art

Friends Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff both lead double lives: Jack pretends to be a man named Ernest while he is in town, but in the country, he goes by his real name, Jack Worthing, and takes care of his eighteen year old ward, Cecily Cardew, and pretends to worry about his brother, Ernest, in London. Algernon/Algy pretends that he has to visit a dying friend in order to get out of plans with his aunt, Lady Bracknell. Jack proposes to Lady Bracknell's daughter, Gwendolen Fairfax, who can only be in love a man named Ernest. Algy, after hearing about Cecily, is determined to meet her and when he does, pretends to be Jack's brother, Ernest, and gains her affection.

There are some familiar faces in The Importance of Being Earnest that you may recognize from other period dramas:

Actor/ActressCharacterAlso Seen In
Colin FirthJack WorthingPride and Prejudice (1995) as Mr. Darcy
Frances O'ConnorGwendolen FairfaxMansfield Park (1999) as Fanny Price
Judi DenchLady Augusta BracknellCranford as Miss Matty Jenkyns
Tom WilkinsonDr. Frederick ChasubleSense and Sensibility (1995) as Mr. Dashwood
Anna MasseyMiss Laetitia PrismHe Knew He Was Right as Aunt Stanbury
Edward FoxLaneDaniel Deronda as Sir Hugo Mallinger
Finty WilliamsYoung Lady Augusta BracknellCranford as Mrs. Clara Smith

The movie in general I found was a bit hard to follow. I don't know if it was because it was pretty fast moving or what, but I think I missed quite a bit at the beginning. I'm still puzzled why Jack bothered with keeping up two identities; Algy at least had a reason since he wanted to get out of dinners with his aunt (which was a bad excuse, no doubt), but I still don't know what excuse Jack had.

Algernon/Algy Moncrieff (left) and Jack Worthing
But anyways, the focus of The Importance of Being Earnest revolves around the complications that are created by Algy and Jack. Both men are very similar to each other: both of them are irresponsible (though with Jack, it's only when he's Ernest in town), both do not want the other to marry their relative, and both are holding up deceptions that they eventually get tangled up in. I honestly couldn't really like either one of them, but I found Jack to be more tolerable (and no, not just because he was played by Colin Firth); he seemed like he could be more responsible than Algy, but he still seemed wholly unreliable. Algy didn't seem to have any responsibilities that he had to take care of.

Gwendolen (left) and Cecily
I also couldn't really like Gwendolen or Cecily. Cecily seemed to childish for an eighteen year old; her imagination scenes with knights and princesses were too much and seemed out of place with the story.  I also didn't like the way Gwendolen was portrayed either: she seemed too much like a modern woman instead of a late Victorian/early Edwardian lady (really, could we see any English, Victorian/Edwardian lady getting a tattoo?). The both of them to me also seemed really shallow to the point that they said that they could only love a man named Earnest (which, as it turns out, Cecily wasn't all that serious about). I know that last part was probably what Oscar Wilde was going for, so I probably wouldn't have liked them in another version of The Importance of Being Earnest either.

Algy and Cecily with Lady Bracknell (middle)
The minor characters were interesting, I will give this movie that. Dare I say that I liked them better than the main characters? I'm not sure, but they almost seemed less irritating. Judi Dench, I thought, did a really great job with Lady Bracknell: she acted like a finicky upper-class lady that had very bizarre standards for her daughter's husband that seemed to fit the character. Anna Massey was also enjoyable as Miss Prism, who acted all prim and proper while trying to teach young Cecily her lessons and trying to pursue Dr. Chasuble. I wasn't quite sure what to think of Doctor Chasuble: I don't think I saw enough of him to form an opinion.

Very nice scenery! Most of the delightful scenes take place in the country at Jack and Cecily's home in Hertfordshire. There were plenty of outdoor scenes that were very colorful and pleasing to look at. The house was also very bright and ornate. The town scenes mostly take place either at Jack and Algy's club or at Lady Augusta Bracknell's home (which is also light and ornate).

Cecily and Gwendolen
Even though The Importance of Being Earnest was written in the 1890s, the costumes looked almost Edwardian to me (unless they're very late 1890s?). Still, the costumes looked nice and represented their characters (though Jack's and Algy's costumes more represented their situation in life -- rich young men). Gwendolen was often dressed in the current fashions and looked very proper and neat. Cecily was dressed a little more wild since she was still young (though her hair was mostly loose. Could it be to illustrate the fact that she was very young?).

Overall: 3/5
I didn't hate this movie, but I don't think I liked it all that much. Granted, it had Colin Firth in it, so it wasn't a complete disaster to me. I know the acting was done for comedic effect, but it just didn't seem real to me. It was almost like the actors/actresses were striving for comedic acting to the point where it wasn't real anymore. Nevertheless, the costuming is very nice and there are some lovely scenes to behold. This is definitely one of those movies where I could say, "Yes, I saw it, but I probably won't watch it again." For all of you, I would recommend watching it once, but after one time you may not wish to watch it again.

The film is rated PG, but you may wish to skip one part (which was unnecessary to the storyline and was just weird). It involved Gwendolen getting a tattoo (which I'm pretty sure that no respectable English lady would have even considered getting one); I also understand (thanks to IMDB) that there is a similar scene in the credits. There is also some innuendo and a scene that could have been bad but wasn't, but that's about it for content.

The Importance of Being Earnest is available on DVD. It runs for 97 minutes and is rated PG.

Old-Fashioned Charm
This review is apart of the Period Drama Challenge. Come join the fun!


  1. Oh, sorry you didn't love this one, Elizabeth. This is positively one of my VERY favorites. It has such good humor and a fantabulous cast. One of the best comedies there is. :)

    1. I wanted to like it, I tried to like it, but I just couldn't like it all that much. But I'm glad that you like it. :-)

  2. You should read the play - it's sooooo funny!! :D There's a brilliant audio book version for free on Librivox, which I highly recommend.

    This is definitely my favorite adaptation, mainly because of the amazing soundtrack. Also, because Colin Firth is adorable as Jack and Rupert Everett is fantastic as Algy!
    The reason Jack maintained a double identity was for Cecily's sake. He wanted to be a good example for her as Uncle Jack while at home, but he wanted the freedom to do as he wished while in town as Ernest.

    1. Oooh okay! That makes sense about Jack. Thank you!

  3. I highly recommend the play. I had to read it for British Literature a few years ago and the whole class loved it. We would read scenes from during class and couldn't stop laughing at our accents!

  4. I love this play, it's one of my favorites (Algy eating those cucumber sandwiches, but not letting Jack have any? Hilarious!). But I agree with you on this movie, I just didn't care much for it, and I really wanted to like it. Oh well, they can't all be wonderful, eh?

  5. Yay! Glad you watched this. I loved the book/play. And I did enjoy the movie too, or at least I have a good feeling left over about it...watched it prolly two years ago. Need to watch again. So funny seeing Colin Firth here!

  6. I actually did enjoy the movie, but more as a fluffy "modern" romantic comedy than as a period piece. The tattoo scenes are definitely weird and uncomfortable, and add the "modern" feel that I get, but I'm still able to enjoy it on occasion. I've probably watched it 3 or 4 times. My brothers like it, which is a good indication of how intellectual and period authentic it is, but it's fun for something we all enjoy! ;)


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