Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Importance of being Earnest

“The good end happily, and the bad unhappily.
That is what fiction means”
1952: Dir.: Anthony Asquith
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 27th December, 2007
You all know the story - young buck falls for delightful young woman. Autocratic aunt of young woman is all in favour until she discovers that the young man is a foundling - and, even worse, that the foundling was found in a handbag. Much confusion, comedy, hysterics and mistaken identity before the mystery is cleared up and everyone lives happily ever after.
Oscar Wilde’s comedy of manners has been filmed no less than eight times. No matter how illustrious the cast or glossy the production the fact still remains that the version we are to enjoy tonight is the definitive version. It’s overplayed, stagey and ludicrous but it somehow manages to drive home Wilde’s barbs with deadly force. Director Anthony Asquith had the good sense to realise that this is a play written for the theatre and that to take it out of its own proscenium framed setting would dilute its impact. Never have the upper classes seemed so trapped by conventions of their own making. Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell had played the part on the stage since 1939 and she plays it as only an assured old fashioned professional can. The diction is crystal clear, the movements are precise and the timing... well, nobody can milk a line better than Dame Edith!
· Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in 1895 for “gross indecency”. The prosecution was brought by the then Home Secretary, Herbert Asquith. It’s ironic that this film was directed by Herbert Asquith’s son.
· This is Dorothy Tutin’s first film. She was 22.
· John Guilgud was to play the role of Jack Worthing. He’d played the part opposite Edith Evans on the stage. He eventually turned it down because he found filming tedious.
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on a train”

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