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An Ideal Husband

Rated [PG-13], 97 minutes
Starring Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore and Jeremy Northam
Based on the play by Oscar Wilde
Screenplay Adaptation and Directed by Oliver Parker

I'll start with audience reaction to writer/director Oliver Parker's adaptation of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband, while I figure out how to break the news to you. . .

The woman to my right, apparently a major Wilde-aholic was fairly drooling when the lights came up, calling the picture "the most perfect adaptation of Wilde I've ever seen. The non-Wilde blended seamlessly with the real Wilde." The two teenaged girls to my left (their mom brought them) both liked the flick, though it took a while to get into. Since Cranky makes no comparisons to Source Material (and I haven't cracked open a Wilde play since college) let me put it this way: if you think Oscar Wilde is a character created by Dave Sim for Cerebus, you will probably be bored silly by An Ideal Husband within minutes. If you read Cerebus but know Oscar Wilde for the renowned playwright, keen of wit and sharper of tongue that he was, you're more like Cranky and better suited for this tale.

If you're in the first category and the title "The Picture of Dorian Gray" rings a bell, read on. Let's see if we can grab your attention.

An Ideal Husband is the second turn of the century play (this in 1895 as opposed to David Mamet's The Winslow Boy, also with Jeremy Northam, in 1910) to be adapted and released this summer. It falls into the category of drawing-room comedy, in which half a dozen characters are involved in half a dozen more relationships, with miscommunication being the basis for any number of comical misunderstandings. Which means I'll make it easier for you and lay out the cast of characters:

  • Lady Gertrude Chiltern (Cate Blanchett) is upper-uppercrust English society, with an ideal marriage to a perfect and perfectly wealthy husband. She believes that lies are an intolerable affront and will not tolerate their presence, or the presence of those that tell and live by them, in her life. Her husband...
  • Sir Robert Chiltern (Jeremy Northam), unfortunately, has never told his wife that he earned his fortune by tipping a stockbroker to England's plans for the Suez Canal. Now a rich man and rising star in Parliament, he cannot tell his wife the truth, which is known to...
  • Mrs. Laura Cheveley (Julianne Moore), who is in possession of the letter in which Sir Robert spilled the beans, she having married the recipient. With her money tied up in another deal whose fate lies before Parliament, the widow Cheveley is not beyond blackmail to make another fortune. Which brings us to the man in the middle...
  • Sir Arthur Goring (Rupert Everett), best friend of Sir Robert, former fiancé of Mrs. Cheveley and, in general, a rich ne'er-do-well. A bachelor, and determined to stay that way while partying all night and seducing every possible woman in sight, Sir Arthur is blind to the enamored eye of...
  • Mabel Chilton (Minnie Driver), Sir Robert's sister, who does her darndest to win Sir Arthur's attention. God knows why.

Sir Robert approaches his friend for help in resolving this delicate matter but Sir Arthur, thanks to some delicate miscommunication, and a bunch of the aforementioned drawing rooms, screws up the situation beautifully. Relationships seemingly destroyed, a secret wager is made which will leave at least one, if not all the, characters miserable for the rest of their lives. If you think I've given away the story, no. There are several more characters and sub-stories hidden safely from view.

Oscar Wilde's story is woven so intricately that as each relationship rights itself, another one comes unraveled. The pleasure comes from his words, written in the formal and oh so polite style of the day, filled with innuendo and that good old smile-while-I-stab-you-in-the-back meaning. For those in the know, there's a perfectly tongue in cheek scene in which the principals attend the theater premiere of "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde, complete with a short appearance by "the author" (Michael Culkin), but spend more time looking at each other through opera glasses, than at the play. Ignorant sot that I am, I'll guess that came from Parker.

Stuffed with production values and beautifully photographed, Oliver Parker's adaptation, still gave me the feeling that I are watching a play, on the screen. Then again, the standard ticket price for a Broadway drama tops sixty bucks a pop, so you're getting away with murder. All the performances are good, as you would expect, though Minnie Driver seems out of place as the eye popping ingenue. Her role gets meatier as you reach the conclusion. Julianne Moore's Mrs. Cheveley is deliciously wicked and, as the villain of the piece, is the one you'll remember most.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to An Ideal Husband, he would have paid...


This dating level rating and recommendation matches the one I gave to The Winslow Boy. You're better off if you've been through college and have some exposure to Wilde. An Ideal Husband is a more complex story, so if you want to ease into what were the greatest hits of a century ago, start with Winslow and then move up to this one.

Dirt Cheap Reading: The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde

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