After a successful and quite entertaining adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband”, Director Oliver Parker dips into the well again to try and bring the playwright’s most famous work to the big screen – without as much success. The famed ‘fake identity’ use story goes through some choppily edited re-arrangement to add some pacing and visual difference, as a result though the nuances of some sequences are lost whilst a ‘medieval fantasy’ style series of dreams are unfunny and not required. Wilde’s story was always a tightly made and crisply spoken effort, so much so that re-editing only makes things lose both focus and interest.
As Meg Ryan is to romantic comedies, Rupert Everett is to period pieces – he’s got a specific style of acting which works for him and once again he pulls it off here. As much as I usually like Firth, his comedic skills work when he underplays it – which he does for half the time here (the other half is a little too overdone) yet he proves more engaging than the somewhat cold & aloof Everett. Witherspoon and Dench have also been involved with great comedy before but neither are particularly memorable here in their roles (Dench though can always pull off any role with class). If there’s a standout though its Frances O’Connor who gives her best performance yet in a US production and supporting actors Anna Massey and Tom Wilkinson who all have a good sense of fun.
Wilde’s story doesn’t translate as well to film as it should though – the brilliant dialogue is rushed and not allowed time to sink in as with a theatre performance, whilst the story’s end coincidence seems too far-fetched even for today’s Summer movie-bred audience. The enormous settings only make the character interaction seem colder and more isolated than they should be. Still, the production values and locations are exquisite and the dry humour still crackles through with regular intensity. The swing music seems oddly placed with the on-screen action, but is only a minor element. Its a solid translation and certainly will prove richer on the small screen than in a movie theatre, but its not what it should be.