Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:37 - Released 6/16/99

Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband has been produced several times before, and although I've never seen any other production of it, I can't help assuming this must be the best. Wilde's script is ingenious, as would be expected, and under the direction of Oliver Parker (Othello), this period piece is as witty and romantic as can be. Of course, the cast contains such actors as Rupert Everett, Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, and Julianne Moore, so Parker's job must have been a breeze.

During the 1895 London "season," when romance blooms and marriages are arranged, we meet Lord Arthur Goring (Everett), a charmingly ascerbic playboy with no intention of being wed, even to the spunky Mabel Chiltern (Driver), who seems his perfect match. We also meet Mabel's brother Sir Robert Chiltern (Jeremy Northam) and his wife, Lady Gertrud (Blanchett), an honored couple in London's high society. Sir Robert is a cabinet member in parliament, currently debating whether England should invest in a new canal in Argentina. He is hotly opposed to the scheme and about to submit his report advising against it when he is visited by Mrs. Laura Cheveley (Moore), a former Londoner who has become a wealthy and influential widow in Vienna.

Mrs. Cheveley, an ex-lover of Lord Goring, insists that Chiltern support the canal scheme (she has invested heavily in it). When he states his intentions to denounce it, she threatens him with a scandal that would wreck his career, reputation, and marriage all in one stroke. It seems he did a little insider trading a few years ago, but no one knows that this is the source of his fortune, and Lady Gertrud's love for him is based primarily on her faith in his unimpeachable moral character.

Also while on her visit to London, Mrs. Cheveley attempts to reconcile with Lord Goring, whom she left for a wealthier man. Now that she is a widow, she wants him back. Her advances upset Mabel, who wants Goring for herself, although Mabel is growing increasingly frustrated since his proposal, as yet, is not forthcoming. Soon everyone is at odds with their partners, Chiltern's career and Goring's bachelorhood are both in question, and Mrs. Cheveley is apparently pulling all the strings.

It is sad that this kind of dialogue is seen so infrequently in modern films; Wilde had a way with words unparalleled in this century. But his genius would be wasted without a talented cast and director, and this group has done excellently by it. Everett is charming; his timing and delivery are perfect for the unperturbable suavity of Arthur Goring. Northam and Blanchett compliment Goring wonderfully well as the "serious" couple, but the one who almost steals the show is Driver. Her subtlety with Mabel is exquisitely delicate; her faintest gestures and eye movements show she is perfectly in control of this deceptively complex character. Also fun to watch is the relationship between Goring and his butler, Phipps (Peter Vaughan, who did excellent work as Anthony Hopkins's father in The Remains Of The Day). Phipps's longevity in his position is illustrated by his humorously detached reactions to Goring's most outlandish statements. Director Parker and his actors seem truly in touch with what Wilde had in mind; his sparkling text is very well exectued by all.

The settings and costumes beautifully suggest the opulence of late 19th-century London aristocracy; I would think Oscar nominations might be in order. Parker has picked an engaging project, fitted it out with the perfect cast, and produced a true gem of cinema. *****

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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