Miramax // 1999 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // June 9th, 2000
I love talking about nothing father, it's the only thing I know anything about.
From last year comes Writer/Director Oliver Parker's screen adaptation of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband.
The plot found here is complex with enough complications and misunderstandings, not to mention having enough doors slammed open and closed, to make the likes of the great Preston Sturges happy.
In one corner there is the virtuous couple, Sir Robert and Gertrud Chiltern (Jeremy Northam and Cate Blanchett). Gertrud thinks the world of her husband with him feeling the same way for her. Both consider the other to be perfect but little does Gertrud know there is a very dark secret in Sir Robert's past, one that is brought to the surface by the appearance of the scheming Mrs. Cheveley (Julianne Moore). One of Mrs. Cheveley's former husbands was the man that Sir Robert did his improper dealing with and she has the letter to prove it. A letter she will use to expose Sir Robert with if he does not back a controversial overseas project that would have a considerable financial windfall for Mrs. Cheveley.
Also in the mix is Sir Robert's sister Mabel (Minnie Driver), who is hopelessly in love with Sir Robert's best friend, Lord Arthur Goring (Rupert Everett). Lord Goring is the bachelor supreme and he is in no hurry to change that. Although of late he has found himself being smitten by Mabel, a situation that both surprises and scares him. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Mrs. Cheveley was once engaged to be married to Lord Goring. A relationship she is eager to restart, all the while she is blackmailing poor Sir Robert. Oh, did I mention that Lord Goring also used to date Gertrud?
To go on anymore would ruin the surprises that lay in wait in this engaging little movie.
Thank the heavens for Miramax Pictures. Without them I'm sure we never would have been able to enjoy the delights of this movie. It is quite rare to find a film that is so well acted and directed. A film so utterly charming and dare I say it? Literate. An Ideal Husband is all that and more.
Director Oliver Parker (Othello) has adapted Oscar Wilde's play and, with a few deviations, the film stays quite true to the source material. Which is a good thing. For if you know anything about Oscar Wilde, you know he was one of the greatest wordsmiths who ever put pen to paper. Watching this film reminded me of what a joy a well written piece of dialogue can be. That turn of a certain phrase, that stays in the mind long after hearing it, never failing to bring a smile.
The cast is uniformly good with the prime role going to Rupert Everett (Inspector Gadget, My Best Friend's Wedding, The Comfort Of Strangers) as Lord Goring. His way of phrasing and intonation are just first rate, he really understands Wilde and the movie simply would not work without him. Everett is one of those actors that every time I see him, I'm impressed by his work and am left to wonder why he is not better known. Watching the film a second time I tried to think of who else would work in this role and after much consideration the only actor I think could have come close is the late, great Rex Harrison.
As the pure and noble couple both Cate Blanchett (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Pushing Tin, Elizabeth) and Jeremy Northam (Happy, Texas, The Winslow Boy, Amistad) also deserve credit for making the roles very much their own. Blanchett is a performer to watch. She combines intelligence, innocence and sexuality all in a glance and a smile. With her upcoming work in Peter Jackson's mammoth The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, I think she is poised for great things.
Northam is also an actor on the brink. After reviewing his work in Happy, Texas, I found it hard to believe it was the same actor here in An Ideal Husband. He loses himself in both roles, making the small time crook in the former film as real as the uptight, proper British politician in this one. Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, Short Cuts, Assassins) is again playing a high society British lady but unlike her turn in The End of the Affair, this film does not waste her talent in a boring, morose mess. One of our countries best acting talents she more than holds her own with her comrades from across the pond. She has a role not unlike Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons, sexy, funny, smart and very, very mean. She plays everything to the hilt but never goes over the edge.
I would like to spend a little time talking about another wonderful character actor, John Wood. The first time I saw John Wood it was in New York City, onstage as the lead in "Amadeus." His work as Salieri is a performances that has stayed in my mind for almost twenty years now and it ranks right up there with seeing Jason Robards in "The Iceman Cometh." Just a short list of his film work would include roles in Sabrina, Richard III, The Madness Of King George, The Purple Rose Of Cairo and War Games. As Rupert Everett's father, Lord Caversham, Wood brings all the qualities I have come to expect of him over the years. Smart, kind and with an impeccable sense of comic timing, the man is one of the best in the business. The film is better because of his presence and he makes a wonderful foil for Everett.
Disney has come through once again, giving the video and audio end of An Ideal Husband, well, ideal treatment. As has been the case for most of the year now an anamorphic transfer has been given to the film, which retains its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is a beautifully rendered picture. Colors are natural and lifelike with flesh tones being solid and on the money. Darker hues and nighttime scenes were solid and ripe with detail. I could find no evidence of pixel breakup or edge enhancement anywhere in the film. Another fine job from Disney.
On the sound front, the soundtrack is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and while not aggressive, it is very sturdy and it serves the film well. There are no surround effects to speak of but in this kind of film the words themselves are on center stage and everything is heard clearly, with no distortion or background hiss audible. Very solid work.
Not many complaints from me on An Ideal Husband. As a film my only real quibble is with Minnie Driver's (Tarzan, Good Will Hunting, Grosse Point Blank) performance. She is not bad, its just I thought that she overplayed things somewhat. While everyone else is doing the low-key British thing, she was instead playing vaudeville. She is quite funny but that humor is found at the expense of the rest of the film.
As a DVD release, Disney does a fine job with both video and audio. Right now I lump them together with Paramount. Both are studios that do top notch work on their catalogue titles but fail in the extras department. Using The Sixth Sense, Music of the Heart and Tarzan as prime examples, The House That The Mouse Built knows how to do special content with the best of them. It would not have taken much from them to make me happy. A commentary track would have shut me up or some deleted scenes would have been great. As it stands all we have is a very brief, as in 5 minutes brief, featurette. More could and should have been done.
What a wonderful and charming film An Ideal Husband is. Fans of great dialogue and spirited acting are recommended to check this film out. As a purchase, well, the lack of extras combined with an asking price of 30 bucks make it an expensive disc to swallow. If you can find it discounted online or at a more reasonable rate used, as I did, buy with confidence. Otherwise it makes for a great rental.
Director Oliver Parker and his entire cast are acquitted. Disney is thanked for the great reproduction of this underrated film but is asked to put more thought into the supplemental materials. Chances are this is the only crack at this movie Disney is going to take for a while, so this court would like to have seen this as well as other movies done right the first time. Special thanks from the bench go to Oscar Wilde. Wherever you are, looking down or looking up, please know there is still an audience for the joy your words bring. Thank you and good day.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Production Featurette