An Ideal Husband

1999, Movie, PG-13, 96 mins


Oh, to be Wildean: effortlessly clever, supremely self-possessed, fashionable and forever prepared with exactly the right comeback. And to top it all off, even his brittlest, most supercilious creations — frivolous bon vivant Lord Goring (Rupert Everett), say, who observes that to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance — are secretly nicer and more decent than they'd ever let on. At the heart of Oscar Wilde's uncannily prescient comedy of manners, in which public scandal and private heartache are inevitably intertwined, lie Lord and Lady Chiltern (Jeremy Northam, Cate Blanchett), to all appearances an ideal couple. He's a progressive politician famed for his honesty, she's a virtuous and loving wife. But their cozy little home life is threatened when the conniving Mrs. Cheveley (Julianne Moore) glides into town, an unsavory bit of information about Lord Chiltern's past clutched to her Machiavellian bosom. Could Chiltern's career and marriage survive the revelation of a long-ago indiscretion, or must he succumb to humiliating blackmail and hope his upstanding wife never finds out? If the play weren't more than 100 years old you'd be tempted to chide the writer for plucking a tale from recent headlines rather than exercising his imagination. Except, of course, that no one who's made recent headlines is anywhere near as urbane as the least of Wilde's creations. This isn't a perfect adaptation: Minnie Driver is conspicuously miscast, her pushy modern mannerisms and looks utterly at odds with the character of Miss Mabel (what Victorian lady would ever tolerate such a tan!), and the ending is a bit clunky, in part because it's so clear that Lord Goring and Miss Mabel are not made for each other. But it's lavish, clever entertainment, a welcome opportunity to laugh without shame. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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