AN IDEAL HUSBAND
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. *****
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