Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, conceived in 1894 and first performed on 14 February 1895 at the St James’s Theatre in London, is a play of social pretense and mistaken identity. The very title puns on the name “ Ernest” and the quality of “ being earnest.” The main event of the play is the matchmaking of two egoists Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff to two girls. The plot is full of farcical and melodramatic elements, for example, both heroes pose as men named Ernest to please their ladies, but then exposed. As the story unfolds, it turns out that Jack and Algernon are siblings. Moreover, the name of one of them is actually Ernest. The character of the protagonist is particularly close to Wilde and often met in his plays. Although this hero likes to pose extremely immoral and negates all principles of morality, he plays the key role in the triumph of truth and justice in the course of action.
The 1952 film of the same title, directed by Anthony Asquith, who also wrote its screenplay, presents a decent reading of the original intricate comedy of manners. The cast presents Michael Denison as Algernon, Michael Redgrave as Jack, Edith Evans in role of Lady Bracknell, Joan Greenwood as Gwendolen, Dorothy Tutin as Cecily, and Margaret Rutherford as Miss Prism and Miles Malleson as Canon Chasuble. The screen version conveys the original meaning close to the original style. It even resembles the record of a theatrical performance with the audience taking their seats in a Victorian-like theater at the beginning. Scenes come mostly in sequence and long takes convey the rhythms of Oscar Wilde’s dialogue. The viewer can enjoy A Trivial Comedy for Serious People of Wilde with the additional pluses of cinematography. The latter is a legendary actor performance. However, while reading the play, Jack and Algernon performed in film by Redgrave and Denison appear in imagination ten years younger. Despite this, Michael Redgrave’s outstanding interpretation of Jack Worthing renders the character particularly close to Wilde. Jack is a secular young man speaking in paradoxes, funny, sometimes very sharp and sometimes even bold. The viewers see Wilde’s idea that the people supposed immoral are more moral than those who exhibit their virtues, while in fact they have a lot of secret sins and evils against morality.
Wilde’s paradox conveys the critical observation of the shaky moral of the late Victorian society. The image of Lady Bracknell brightly depicts Wilde’s view. Dame Edith Evans in the role of Lady Bracknell exactly superciliously and congenitally transfers the image of an authoritarian aunt. Her every declaration that “ to lose one parent is a misfortune, to lose both is downright carelessness” (Wilde, Act 1), presents true genius. Evans’ greatest performance associates with Lady Bracknell and it is hard to imagine someone else who can pronounce with special intensity and expressiveness “ Prism! Where is that baby?” (Wilde, Act 3). Her figure precisely renders the Victorian’s snobbish and mercenary world created by the pen of Wilde. In this world, everything appears inside out: virtuous people are vicious, vicious are often virtuous.
The film is largely faithful to the original drama of Wilde. The version captures the essence and the amusement of the play with wit cascades of paradoxes. A Trivial Comedy with ease relates to the politics and the public life, behaviors and morals, marriage and family. It is particularly Wilde’s position in relation to the norms of bourgeois society. This society wants serious attitude to its problems. Nevertheless, Wilde does not want to take seriously the moralities of this world. He is very disrespectful towards its holy things passing through the cynical dialogues of his characters, ingeniously performed later by the actors in a 1952 screen version.
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Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. The Project Gutenberg eBook. N. p., n. d. Web. 06 October 2014.