An Ideal Husband

An Ideal Husband

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

After Shakespeare In Love and Elizabeth, audiences hunger for starched collars and lace petticoats once more. Surely, this is the moment to rediscover the wittiest man in England. Oliver Parker directs with the fluidity of a brick. There is so little activity on screen, Rupert Everett looks planted. His charm is irresistible, his smile disarming, but when he leans into the room to take a step, you feel his roots stretch. Lord Goring (Everett) is the son of an Earl, flagrantly idle and damnably good at it. His repartee is mined with self mockery and peppered with aphorisms. "I love talking about nothing," he brays. "It is the only thing I know anything about."

Oscar Wilde's plot is ingenious. Goring's friend, Sir Robert Chiltern (Jeremy Northam), married to the beautiful and intelligent Gertrude (Cate Blanchett), is being blackmailed by a lady from Vienna, Mrs Cheveley (Julianne Moore), who, two husbands and a few years prevously, had been "engaged" to Goring.

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Chiltern is an ambitious politician, tipped for high office. The blackmail concerns an earlier indiscretion, one that even his wife knows nothing of. Cheveley wants him to give verbal backing in parliament to a South American canal scheme, in which she has invested heavily. He knows it to be a fraud. What to do? Lie and save himself? Or stick to his principals and be ruined by a scandal?

The performances are rapier sharp, especially those of Northam and Moore, who demonstrates beautifully that Gwyneth Paltrow is not the only American actress with a tuned ear for the Ascot accent. Minnie Driver, as Chiltern's sister, Mabel, seems a very modern young lady. This is the London season of 1895, where "people are either hunting for husbands, or hiding from them", not a fancy dress ball in 1995.

Parker's first film, Othello, with Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh, sank without trace. An Ideal Husband won't sink. It has Wilde's words and too fine a cast. The interiors may be dark and oppressive, the theatrical origins barely concealed, but the spirit of Oscar remains irrepressible. "I swear on my life," Goring assures Mabel, "to be utterly trivial." He is a man of his word.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Stilted Oscar Wilde adaptation.
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Director: Oliver Parker

Writer: Oliver Parker, Oscar Wilde novel

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, Lindsay Duncan, Rupert Everett, Marsha Fitzalan, Julianne Moore, Jeremy Northam

Year: 1999

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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