By William Wolf

AN IDEAL HUSBAND  Send This Review to a Friend

Note that the screen credits say based on the play by Oscar Wilde, not his play brought to the screen. There has been some tampering by writer-director Oliver Parker, but the net result is a thoroughly entertaining, literate and most welcome film for audiences who appreciate intelligence and sophisticated humor.

Enough of Wilde's wit survives to keep us chuckling as we venture intoVictorian age London near the end of the century and observe shenanigans not all that different from modern-day schemes, conflicts of interest and romantic complications. The cast carries the day. Handsome Jeremy Northam, one of Britain's most striking actors, gives another top-notch performance as Sir Robert Chiltern, a rising political figure and social charmer whose past dishonesty could undo him if it became known. Cate Blanchett is radiant as the wife who idolizes him. The feeling is mutual.

But Mrs. Cheveley, who seems to have been everybody's old flame, turns up to blackmail Sir Robert in connection with a financial scheme she is promoting. Julianne Moore, never more seductive, oozes sexual vibes and smarmy tactics. Rupert Everett, another of Britain's important actors, play's Sir Robert's loyal friend Lord Goring, a very eligible marriage prospect who strives to remain a bachelor despite the nagging of his father (John Wood). Waiting hopefully in the wings is Sir Robert's sister Mabel (Minnie Driver), bent on turning Lord Goring into a husband, ideal or otherwise. Driver acts convincingly, although I must say there is always something too perky and offbeat about her that annoys me.

Great to look at, the film abounds in sets and costumes colorfully denoting the period. Much is made of the build-up toward the 20th century, which has resonance for the contemporary approach of the 21st. Wilde was so very gifted in his ability to spotlight the frailties of his characters within their social milieu and to mine humor from their pretensions and compromises. "An Ideal Husband," with a few twists of its own, is a mature film that does him justice. A Miramax release.


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