Watching ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (2002) by Oliver Parker marked my first time witnessing a play being adapted for screen without any visible changes made to the narrative or, obviously enough in this case, the script. The last adapted play I have seen was ‘Hamlet’ (1990) by Franco Zeffirelli, which, unlike the movie I am about to discuss, felt innovative, since it had an interesting cinematographic (by that I mean primarily the camerawork and the mood set by Mel Gibson’s performance) perspective on what essentially is one of the most iconic plays ever created. However, by contrasting those two films, I am merely accusing Oliver Parker’s adaptation in being a lazy-made movie, but rather raising a question, whether some plays should even be changed significantly when transferred to the silver screen. Still, for me the answer to that would be “yes” simply because I have not enjoyed ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ as much as I wanted to.
It is hard to imagine an Oscar Wilde’s play adaptation being any worthwhile without a wonderful cast, and Oliver Parker has done a good job at that, making an aristocratic, yet awkward Colin Firth Jack – a charming hypocrite (‘To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up.’), and securing the Judi Dench as the Lady Bracknell, whom she already played in theatre previously in her acting career. However, other choices I have found quite questionable, especially Reese Witherspoon as Cecily. As I believe, Witherspoon is a B-category actress who seemed both out of place and as if she was trying too hard (Cecily is rather careless, saying, for instance, ‘Oh! I don’t think I would care to catch a sensible man. I shouldn’t know what to talk to him about.’). Moreover, her dreamy sequences felt completely unnecessary. The costumes were both accurate and stylish, unlike, sadly again, the score, which was incoherent with the atmosphere and the narrative. The cinematography was very orthodox, operator seemed to have just played it too safe.
Overall, the movie felt like a huge disappointment. It was frustrating to watch good actors rot in such a boring, unoriginal film with wonderful plot and dialogue given to the director right on the plate. If anything, this movie developed my appreciation for the play itself and showed how unneeded film adaptations can sometimes be. Rather than revisiting Oliver Parker’s dull creation, I would rather read its subtitles one more time, preferably, in a paper form.
Reference: all quotations taken from Oscar Wilde, “The Importance of Being Earnest, and other plays”, Penguin Books, 1986.