Is there anyone out there who is unaware of The Importance of Being Earnest? If so then hello! The Importance of Being Earnest is Oscar Wilde’s final, most well-known play – like his earlier comedies it is largely concerned with switched identities, sparring witticisms, and situations deliberated convoluted for comic effect. It’s still wonderful and very funny 122 year later, though certain thesps have done their best to ruin it by treating it as a restoration farce.
As a work it has proved a mixed blessing for Wilde. Its lightness compared to earlier and later works has contributed to his unfair reputation as a aesthetic fop with nothing to say beyond a few bon mots, and the play’s original run at St James’s Theatre coincided with the escalating feud with The Marquess of Queensbury, which would lead to his imprisonment just fifteen weeks after the play opened. Without it, however, how much of his work would ever be performed today? Probably not a great deal.
Here are a few of the many screen adaptations.
The first one, from 1952, is naturally the best, as it features Dame Edith Evans, the definitive Lady Bracknell. This is part one, further parts can be found on YouTube.
The second is from 1986, has Paul McGann, and looks shoddily shot in the way much British TV of the 80s does (this is not necessarily a bad thing)
The third is more recent, stars Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O’Connor, Reese Witherspoon and Judi Dench, and is as much of a luvvie indulgence piece as you might imagine. Only Judy Dench really puts her own stamp on it.