Courtesy Photo
*** stars 98 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, June 25, 1999
Adapted & directed by Oliver Parker

Starring Jeremy Northan, Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, Rupert Everett & Julianne Moore

Interview with screenwriter-director Oliver Parker


English costume comedies generally play well on the small screen, and "An Ideal Husband" will too - with a slight loss of atmosphere in pan & scan. But you can't beat the performances. Worth seeing just for Rupert Everett, who was just born to play Oscar Wilde roles.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 1/18/99

Oscar Wilde-related:
"Wilde" (1998)

Oliver Parker:
"Othello" (1995)

Jeremy Northam:
"The Winslow Boy" (1999)
"Amistad" (1997)
"Mimic" (1997)
"Emma" (1996)
"The Net" (1995)

Cate Blanchett:
"Pushing Tin" (1999)
"Elizabeth" (1998)
"Oscar & Lucinda" (1997)

Minnie Driver:
"Tarzan" (1999) voice
"The Governess" (1998)
"Hard Rain" (1998)
"Good Will Hunting" (1997)
"Grosse Pointe Blank" (1997)
"Big Night" (1996)
"Sleepers" (1996)
"Goldeneye" (1995)

Rupert Everett:
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1999)
"My Best Friend's Wedding" (1997)
"Cemetery Man" (1996)

Julianne Moore:
"Cookie's Fortune" (1999)
"Psycho" (1998)
"The Big Lebowski" (1998)
"Boogie Nights" (1997)
"The Lost World" (1997)

Audacious rewrite of 'Ideal Husband' preserves Wilde's wit, monkeys with his story

By Rob Blackwelder

Showing even more cheek than he did in reinterpreting Shakespeare's "Othello" as an erotic thriller in 1995, screenwriter-director Oliver Parker's second feature film is an audaciously re-written -- and in some ways improved -- version of "An Ideal Husband," Oscar Wilde's drawing room comedy of politics, marriage and blackmail.

A view askew English Lit redeaux that will likely gall purist, enchant those who don't know the difference, and at least amuse everyone in between, Parker's perfectly-cast "Ideal Husband" may not be pure Wilde -- the director adds his own subplots and creates whole scenes from events only implied in the play -- but it preserves what's important: The playwright's unmistakable insight and always delightful wit.

The film opens with the curtains drawing back on the bed of resolute bachelor Lord Goring (Rupert Everett), who is saying goodbye to a pretty overnight guest. Just to look at Everett in this role is to realize that he is the most consummate Oscar Wilde performer ever. Charming, aristocratic, handsome, smug, sharp-tongued but distinguished, he sets the tone for his character's views toward society, and especially toward marriage, in this first scene, saying, his voice dripping with irony, "Other people are quite dreadful. To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance."

Goring is the steadiest head in a story, even if he is narcissistic and "the idlest man in London." While the rest of the characters are pre-occupied with extortion, society and affairs of the heart, he is always ready with adventurous solutions to others' problems, or at the very least a clever quip. And he is called on for such solutions regularly by the rest of this picture's dream cast.

Jeremy Northam, who gave such a stunning performance recently in "The Winslow Boy," plays Sir Robert Chiltern, a rising politician and practiced English gentleman with a single, dark secret from his past that is about to be exploited. Sir Robert, the title character and really the center of the story, turns to his good friend Goring for help.

The beautiful Cate Blanchett ("Elizabeth"), a sublime chameleon of an actress, is Gertrude, Sir Robert's concerned and conservative wife, who also looks to Goring, her dearest friend, for a shoulder when the imminent scandal disrupts her storybook marriage.

The blackmailer Mrs. Cheveley is played with wicked enthusiasm by Julianne Moore as the feminine equivalent of the mustache-twirling villain with a political agenda. Deliciously manipulative, she offers to abandon her scheme against honorable Sir Robert if Goring will marry her, a prospect he is determined to avoid no matter who the bride might be. In one of Parker's flourishes, he proposes a bet (with the same stakes) on Sir Robert's integrity instead.

Only poor, smitten Mabel, Sir Robert's younger sister played with alluring insecurity by Minnie Driver, lacks for Lord Goring's attention -- mostly because she wants it so badly.

Parker's take on Wilde's play deliberately emphasizes themes that are as prevalent now as they were when "An Ideal Husband" debuted 100 years ago (political scandal, the moral gorge of capitalism run rampant). But such themes, while sometimes overly obvious, take a back seat to Wilde's chirpy comedy, which the film nails perfectly.

A very handsome affair to be sure, with gorgeous costumes, sets and photography, "An Ideal Husband" is a little uneven and some of the plot developments come out of nowhere (Goring's realization that he loves Mabel) or are based largely on silly misunderstandings. But that is as much Wilde's fault as it is Parker's, and it's clear the director adores this work he has so brazenly toyed with.

The fact that the film's augmented climax is followed by another 10 awkward minutes of story is all Parker's doing through his restructuring of the script. This anti-climax, while still engaging and especially jocular, gives the film an odd shape that might have audience members checking their watches and scratching their heads.

Whether his changes (which do tie up some of Wilde's lose ends) disparage or improve upon the original work may become a topic of great debate among theater and literature types, but there is no denying Wilde's wonderfully polite yet scathing social satire remains intact, thanks in part to an ideal cast -- and that's the best reason to see "An Ideal Husband."


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