The importance of Ernest is a play by Oscar Wilde which stresses the triviality of a number of things including the institution of Marriage. There have been multiple film adaptations of this work but I chose to watch the 2002 film version starring Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Frances O’Connor, Reese Witherspoon and Judi Dench. It was about 90 minutes long and was very interesting to watch.
It began with the character of Algernon played by Rupert Everett fleeing from creditors, a scene that is not in the book. The book contains only three acts, one in Algernon’s place, and the other two in the estate of Jack and Cecily. The movie takes liberty with this and I could count numerous other scenes that were not in the book. Scenes like the Tattoo Parlor which I think Oscar Wilde would have loved because of how it undermines with comic relief, and Wilde is all about undermining even the smallest things, like a woman who flirts with her own husband. Algernon says it is not even decent. The movie also plays up Miss Prism and Chasuble’s romance which is not really addressed in the book. The movie gives Lady Bracknell a past that is entirely new, and this is a liberty the producers of the movie could get away with since it further emphasizes the triviality of marriage which is Wilde’s aim. Though I am unable to name them all, this added scenes are, in my belief, for the sake of the viewer. The medium with which the play is being represented changes the way it will be viewed. With film, people have to be kept engaged as they tend to become less interested when things remain stagnant. Which is why I think the first act was not only situated in one place but multiple settings.
Furthermore, while watching the film, I found that a lot of the things I took to be slightly irritating became a source of laughter. The way the characters tended to subvert every single ideal they could get their hands on was unpleasant for me to read. But watching those scenes play out on screen was an absolute delight. It was witty and made me appreciate Wilde’s play more. His work is not meant to be read but performed and I felt the strength of the play when when I was watching it being performed.
I failed to realize the scene where Algernon is being arrested by a solicitor in the movie was actually originally part of the text. I was impressed that this scene was added as I would not have known if I had only read the book and not looked up the movie. It is also peculiar how Oscar Wilde’s name cannot be found anywhere in the promotional posters for the movie. It might be because there aren’t enough active fans or fan bases that they could pander to. Or perhaps it was reenacting the first time the play was originally published which did not have Oscar Wilde’s name on it.
The biggest change in the adaptation was the end where Jack finds out his name is actually Ernest. This scene was skewed so that Jack was actually not being earnest in saying his name was Ernest since his father’s name was actually John. It was a good scene and I think it makes good of those lasts words when Lady Bracknell says you seem to be displaying signs of triviality. It was a welcomed change and a good surprise especially for those who have read the book.
All in all, I think this was a good movie, great if one is looking for a light comedy romance.