The Importance of Being Earnest (1952 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The Importance of Being Earnest
Importance earnest dvd.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Anthony Asquith
Produced by Teddy Baird
Earl St. John
Written by Oscar Wilde
Anthony Asquith
Starring Michael Redgrave
Michael Denison
Edith Evans
Joan Greenwood
Dorothy Tutin
Margaret Rutherford
Miles Malleson
Music by Benjamin Frankel
Cinematography Desmond Dickinson
Edited by John D. Guthridge
Release dates 2 June 1952 (UK)
22 December 1952 (NYC)
Running time 95 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Importance of Being Earnest (1952) is a British film adaptation of the play by Oscar Wilde. It was directed by Anthony Asquith, who also adapted the screenplay, and was produced by Teddy Baird.

Introduction[edit]

This 1952 Anthony Asquith faithful film adaptation is considered to be the "best known version of Oscar Wilde's perennial classic." (Variety) This is a Victorian screwball comedy about mistaken identity. It is about rivalries and the class system with no moral message, just unmatched witty dialogue and one-liners in the true Wilde style. The stage origins of this story are evident in Asquith's adaptation. This complex, irreverent intertwining of mistaken identities, carefully hidden beneath impeccable Victorian manners, is further complicated by the fact that "earnest" was late 19th century slang for "gay."

Plot[edit]

The story takes place on February 14, 1895. It is about two gentlemen pretending to be people other than themselves. Interwoven in their story lines are two romance-stricken ladies, each possessing an unusual allegiance to the manliness of the name Ernest. London man-about-town, Jack Worthing, who hides behind the name Ernest is an aristocrat from the country with uncertain lineage. His "gay and insufferable" friend, Algernon Moncrief, is of moderate means and has also created an imaginary character, Bumberry. Algernon's cousin, Gwendolyn Fairfax, has caught the eye of Jack. Jack's ward in the country, Cecily Cardew, has caught the eye of Algernon. Lady Bracknell rules the roost with her heavy-handed social mores.

The story begins in London. Jack and Algy are discussing life and love. Both reveal to each other their imaginary characters, Ernest and Bumberry. Jack reveals that he is in love with Algy's cousin, Gwendolyn and Algy reveals that he is in love with Jack's ward, Cecily. Both gentlemen begin to scheme the pursuit of their loves. At tea that afternoon, Jack and Gwendolyn secretly reveal their love for one another. Gwendolyn makes it known that her "ideal has always been to love someone named Ernest." Jack fears she will find out his true identity. Lady Bracknell, in undulating purple silk Victorian attire, inquires as to Jack's pedigree. "Rise, sir, from that semirecumbant posture," she quips. "It is most indecorous." Jack confesses that he does not know who his parent are because he was found in a handbag in a cloakroom At Victoria Station as a baby. "A handbag?" Lady Bracknell cannot imagine her daughter forming an "alliance with a parcel."

At the Manor House in the country, Cecily is daydreaming as her governess, Miss Prism, tries to teach her German. Uninvited, Algy arrives from London and assumes the role of Ernest. While Algy and Cecily are getting acquainted in the parlor, Jack arrives in black morning clothes and informs Miss Prism that his brother, Ernest, is dead. When Algy and Cecily come out to see him, the sad news loses it's believably as everyone now thinks Algy is Ernest. In pursuit of Jack, Gwendolyn arrives from London and meets Cecily. They both discover that they are engaged to Ernest, not realizing one is Jack and one is Algy. When the men arrive in the garden, the confusion is cleared up. The ladies are put off that neither one is engaged to someone named Ernest.

Lady Bracknell arrives by train to Manor House. As everyone gathers in the parlor, Lady Bracknell recognizes Miss Prism as her late sister's governess of twenty-eight years ago. "Where is the baby," she bellows. Miss Prism confesses that she inadvertently left the baby in her care in her handbag at Victoria Station. Jack realized they are talking about him. He retrieves the handbag from his private room and shows Miss Prism. She acknowledges that the bag is hers. Lady Bracknell then tells Jack that he is her late sister's son and the older brother to Algy. Unable to ascertain who his father was, Jack look in an Army journal, as his father was a general, and realizes that his father's name was Ernest.

The film ends with Jack saying, "I've now realized for the first time in my life the vital importance of being earnest."

Adaptation[edit]

The film is largely faithful to Wilde's text, although it divides some of the acts into shorter scenes in different locations. Edith Evans's outraged delivery of the line "A handbag?" has become legendary. As actor Ian McKellen has written, it is a performance "so acclaimed and strongly remembered that it inhibits audiences and actors years later" providing a challenge for anyone taking on the role of Lady Bracknell.[1]

The film is noted for its acting, yet the parts played by Redgrave and Denison called for actors ten years younger. Margaret Rutherford, who plays Miss Prism in this adaptation, played Lady Bracknell in the 1946 BBC production.

Cast[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film received a BAFTA nomination for Dorothy Tutin as Most Promising Newcomer and a Golden Lion nomination for Anthony Asquith at the Venice Film Festival.

See also[edit]

Notable Lines[edit]

  • Jack Worthing - "All women become like their mothers. This is their tragedy."
  • Algernon Moncrief - "No man does. That's his."
  • Lady Bracknell - "A handbag?
  • Algernon Moncrief - "I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. It's more romantic to be in love but there's nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one might be accepted. One usually is, I believe. The whole excitement is over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty."
  • Lady Bracknell - "Are you parents living?
  • Jack Worthing - "I have lost both my parents.
  • Lady Bracknell - "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness."
  • Lady Bracknell - "Rise, sir, from this semi-recumbent posture. It is most indecorous."


References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ian McKellen, "Ian McKellen on The Test of Time", The Observer, 13 April 1975.

Bibliography[edit]

  • The Great British Films, pp 156–158, Jerry Vermilye, 1978, Citadel Press, ISBN 0-8065-0661-X
  • Street, Sarah. British National Cinema. UK:Routledge 1997. Print.

External links[edit]