While Wilde is still a useful source for film making, in these modern c’mon aussie dot com days that we live in we expect to have something new put in the mix. Something original, exciting, hell, we’ll even take offbeat and novel. This new version of Earnest doesn’t live up to its name or our hopes.Oscar Wilde’s wit worked so well the first time, so why not use him for the umpteenth time. He’s not quite up there with Shakespeare, but the Wilde is one of the best known and often adapted pre-twentieth century writers. But really we don’t mind, because he can be so funny, and also be relevant to our image obsessed world that we live in.
Oliver Parker’s adaptations have been wonderful, but they depended heavily on the excellent performances and the strength of the original material to win over the audience. With Parker’s versions of Othello and Wilde’s An Ideal Husband there were some strong positives, but it was more to do with the performances of the likes of Kenneth Brannagh and Rupert Everett. In this version of Earnest we once again have Everett, but Parker’s weakness are this time left for all to see.
The interpretation is so straight you wonder how on earth would be involved in the first place. There are some occasional additions, but they seem to have been tacked on as if they were after thoughts.
Earnest’s romantic comedy storyline has dated a touch as we have seen this sort of thing trawl along in hundreds of Meg Ryan films. Parker needed to elevate the story to some new level not seen before (or at least into something we’d like to see again) to make the film more than just competent.
The performances are sound without being spectacular. Firth lacks the charisma that surely is essential for the role, Everett is just the same as always, and O’Connor and Withersoon are competent without showing their true skills. Dench shines through as she gives Lady Bracknell a note perfect interpretation.So this film will be seen as an unimaginative interpretation by those familiar to the text. While new comers will just see it as a sugary romance comedy lighter than half a feather that will leave the mind as quickly as it enters.