THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (Anthony Asquith, 1952)

It is outrageous that some would think that Anthony Asquith’s charming, delightful, occasionally hilarious The Importance of Being Earnest, from Oscar Wilde’s 1895 play, is anything less than cinematic. I say this because the front-end and back-end set-up, based on the rising and closing curtain of a stage performance of the play, is deliberately stagy so that only a dunce could miss the difference of what unfolds in between. Perhaps Asquith is too subtly cinematic; perhaps there are those who prefer the strenuously “cinematic” alternative that Oliver Parker sweated out fifty years later—a piece of garbage for garbage-eaters. The Asquith version floats; the Parker version sinks.
     Unlike Parker’s spotty cast, Asquith’s cast is heavenly: Michael Redgrave as “Jack Worthing,” Michael Denison as Algernon Moncrieff, Joan Greenwood as Gwendolyn Fairfax, Dorothy Tutin as Cecily Cardew and, perhaps best of all, both Edith Evans as Lady Augusta Bracknell—“To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness”—and Margaret Rutherford as Letitia Prism.
     Wilde was by no means one of the major Victorian literary lights; but this play of his has maintained its popularity. With good reason.
     Lady Bracknell: “Fortunately, in England, education at any rate produces no effect whatsoever.”
     Cecily: “If you are not [wicked], then you certainly have been deceiving us all in a perfectly inexcusable manner. I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and really being good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.”
     Miss Prism: “What a lesson for him [that he is dead].”
     Sparkling fun, and in color.

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