Rupert Everett, Reese Witherspoon, ...
Credit: The Importance of Being Earnest: Paul Chedlow

For an upstanding British gentleman of good reputation, Oliver Parker does things frightfully out of order. First, he brings a relatively obscure Oscar Wilde play — ”An Ideal Husband” — to the big screen. Then he goes after the playwright’s most celebrated work. Has he learned nothing from those who film Jane Austen novels? ”Earnest is gleaming and flawless and fresh,” says Parker. ”But it’s actually difficult to do — it can be self-congratulatory and overly knowing. ‘Ideal Husband’ helped me figure out how [to adapt it]: You put it in the streets of London, with traffic and crime and gridlock like we have today. It takes the brittle surface and allows you to layer it.”

Fair enough. But it also helps to have a cast that reads like an A-to-Zed of top British screen talent: names like Dench, Firth, Wilkinson, and…Reese Witherspoon. ”She gives a fantastic performance,” says Everett, who plays the acid-tongued Algernon to Firth’s lovesick Jack in the romantic farce. ”And she’s a very, very brave girl to have done it. It’s quite daunting coming into something so English. We’ve spent half our careers playing these roles.”

The Importance of Being Earnest
  • Movie
  • 94 minutes