"Lord Goring is the most determined man in London to stay single. Until an old flame comes to town with scandalous news about his best friend, Sir Robert Chiltern, a rising star in Parliament..."
Oscar Wilde's dramatic style and ironic flair come to the big screen with a hilarious rendition of his classic play on the subject of deception, dishonesty, good intentions gone bad and the overall subject of matrimony. Sir Robert Chiltern is a rising star in Parliament with a seemingly endless set of good graces, from an adoring wife, a magnitude of wealth, elegance, and the very essence of high society in Victorian England.
Unfortunately, a woman from his past has returned to haunt his future in the form of Mrs. Laura Cheveley, who has scandalous news about the popular politician that would turn his world upside down. Her price for this incriminating piece of evidence is his support in the upcoming vote upon a new canal scheme, one that Sir Robert has found deeply flawed. Afraid that his wife Gertrude's confidence in his "idealness" will be shattered, he turns to his best friend Lord Arthur Goring for help. However, Arthur also has lost ties to the lady blackmailer and his own dealings with her may not only threaten Sir Robert's existence, but his own as well.
Arthur's Father has informed him that he must marry before his thirty-seventh birthday, but as Arthur himself reports, the women of London are not to his liking. Throw in Sir Robert's delightfully charming sister Mabel, more than enough quips to satisfy even the most astute Wilde fan, and a gathering of hilarious mishaps, incidents, and true moments to guarantee a sparkling champagne of ideal perfection. The film is a piece of eye candy, but with a heart. The lavish sets and brilliant costuming are merely the backdrop for a hilarious two hours with a deep underlining current of truth. Arthur may be shallow on first appearance, but his insight into human nature is a keen one and he often hands out pieces of genuinely good advice. He is faithful to his friends almost to a fault and risks his own neck to save Sir Robert's. His only flaw being, of course, his obvious infidelity.
The supporting cast made up of Gertrude, Sir Robert, Mabel, and Laura are each in their respective realm of study. Gertrude has very high ideals and learns that one cannot put a person up too high. Sir Robert makes a sacrifice for good, well-knowing the possible result. Mabel manages to love both brother and sister-in-law, as well as find her true happiness. And Laura? Welll, our scheming villainess proves intensely dislikable, scandalously forward, and receives at least some element of just dues in the end.
For a PG13 film, there is very little to be discretionary about. The single element to earn the rating comes in the first ten seconds of film during the credits, when a blurry, background image of a naked woman gets up from Arthur's bed. Unnecessary and yet easily skipped-over, from there on the film is largely without problematic ruts. There are less than a dozen mild profanities, very little cleavage and only a few minor flirtations. The only other two "possible" moments for discomfort are between husband and wife, and then again with Laura and Arthur. Robert and Gertrude become romantic in bed and kiss passionately before the scene fades. Later, in an attempt to retrieve the letter of incrimination, Arthur runs his hand down Laura's neckline and across her breast.
I was utterly charmed the first time I saw this brilliant adaptation; it is a fine mixture of elegant romance and light-hearted comedy that focus on wit and intellect more than slapstick or stupidity. The film takes great pride in building up the Victorian era, but also in mocking its often disinterested society. It carries along at an agreeable pace and never looses its viewers while teaching subtle messages along the way.
© Charity's Place 2001