Today’s feature: The Importance of Being Earnest (2002), starring Colin Firth (that tall drink of water), Rupert Everett, Reese Witherspoon, and Dame Judi Dench. I am aware that The Importance of Being Earnest is actually a play by Oscar Wilde (full text readable and downloadable here), but this film version is where I first learned of Wilde’s writing. The movie follows the original script quite faithfully, changing only minor facts and omitting portions of text to suit the film’s context.
The story: “Two young gentlemen (Rupert Everett & Colin Firth) living in 1890s England use the same pseudonym (“Ernest”) on the sly, which is fine until they both fall in love with women using that name, which leads to a comedy of mistaken identities… ” (IMDb)
Scene: John “Jack” Worthing (Colin Firth) has an interview with the aristrocratic (read: snotty and proud) Lady Bracknell (Dame Judi Dench) in order to determine if he is a suitable and “eligible” husband for her daughter Cecily (Reese Witherspoon). Unfortunately, Jack doesn’t know who his parents are (family connections are of utmost importance in Victorian England), as he was found a handbag in a train station as a baby. We’ll join them in the middle of the scene (go read the whole scene, in Act II); Judi Dench is particularly brilliant in this scene.
Lady bracknell. …Are your parents living?
Jack: 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. Who was your father? He was evidently a man of some wealth.
Jack. I am afraid I really don?t know. The fact is, Lady Bracknell, I said I had lost my parents. It would be nearer the truth to say that my parents seem to have lost me… I don?t actually know who I am by birth. I was… well, I was found.
Lady Bracknell. Found!
Jack. The late Mr. Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very charitable and kindly disposition, found me, and gave me the name of Worthing, because he happened to have a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex. It is a seaside resort.
Lady Bracknell. Where did the charitable gentleman who had a first-class ticket for this seaside resort find you?
Jack. [Gravely.] In a hand-bag.
Lady Bracknell. A hand-bag?
Jack. [Very seriously.] Yes, Lady Bracknell. I was in a hand-bag – a somewhat large, black…leather…hand-bag, with handles to it – an ordinary hand-bag in fact.
Lady Bracknell. In what locality did this Mr. James, or Thomas, Cardew come across this ordinary hand-bag?
Jack. In the cloak-room at Victoria Station. It was given to him in mistake for his own.
Lady Bracknell. The cloak-room at Victoria Station?
Jack. Yes. The Brighton line.
Lady Bracknell. The line is immaterial. Mr. Worthing, I confess I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it has handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution. And I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to?
Jack. May I ask you then what you would advise me to do? I need hardly say I would do anything in the world to ensure Gwendolen?s happiness.
Lady Bracknell. I would strongly advise you, Mr. Worthing, to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent of either sex. before the season is quite over.
Jack. Well, I don?t see how I could possibly manage to do that. I, I can produce the hand-bag at any moment. It is in my store-room at home. I really think that should satisfy you, Lady Bracknell.
Lady Bracknell. Me, sir! What has it to do with me? You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter – a girl brought up with the utmost care – to marry into a cloak-room, and form an alliance with a parcel! Good morning, Mr. Worthing!
I intend to read the play soon; I wasn’t aware that Oscar Wilde was so witty until I saw this film.