Directed by: Stuart Burge, John Gorrie, Tony Smith, and Rudolph Cartier
Starring: John Gielgud, Joan Plowright, Peter Firth, Jeremy Brett, Helena Little
- Contains The Importance of Being Earnest (1986), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1976), An Ideal Husband (1969) & Lady Windermere’s Fan (1972)
- “The Life and Loves of Oscar Wilde” featurette
Released by: BBC Home Video
Rating: NR, suitable for audiences 13+
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format
My Advice: Get it.
The Importance of Being Earnest (2002 feature film version reviewed here) tells the story of friends Jack (Paul McGann) and Algernon (Rupert Frazer), each of whom use an imaginary persona to escape the pressures of their lives. When this becomes an impediment to their happiness, they have to find a graceful way out of their predicaments that won’t leave each other stranded. The Picture of Dorian Gray relates the story of the wealthy, but dissolute man (Firth) who attempts to preserve his own physical beauty by means of a very special portrait. An Ideal Husband follows the adventures of London society when the honesty of several characters is questioned by mistakes from their past. Will the love matches, political appointments, and personal beliefs all work out as they should, or will Mrs. Cheveley succeed in destroying everyone? Finally, Lady Windermere’s Fan explores a young woman’s attempt to enter London’s society, as well as a look at what generosity, marriage, and loyalty really mean.
The acting of this collection, I have to say, leaves something to be desired, which is rather surprising, given the usual high quality of BBC productions. It could simply be that the style is very much of an earlier decade in most cases, but the ways in which many of the actors chose to represent their characters were rather more irritating than satiric or clever. Frazer’s Algernon, for example, from Earnest, is rather more self-important and loud-mouthed than clever and funny, and his cousin Gwendolyn (Amanda Redman) is similarly vapid. Only Gielgud, unsurprisingly, is believable in his role of Lord Henry Wotton in Dorian Gray. An Ideal Husband suffers particularly, especially in light of the recent stunning version starring Rupert Everett.
The audio for this set of films was quite good; the voices were all easy to hear, even when the actors were speaking softly or trying to emote. The volume wasn’t quite consistent from movie to movie, but that might be asking too much. I wish I could say the video was equally nice–the overall impression was quite dark and lacked the crispness that these prints may have originally had when run on BBC television. The colors were rather muddied overall, giving a rather darker feel to the plays than they should have had, given that all but one of them were comedies. On the other hand, Dorian Gray was nicely moody because of this.
The extras boil down to an hour-long featurette on Wilde’s life, which was handled with grace and compassion, but was honest and rather in-depth. Students of Wilde’s work and life will love to see this, as will anyone who has heard the negative propaganda that often swirls around his name in “polite” circles. It’s nice to be able to count on the BBC to learn the truth.
Overall, fans of Oscar Wilde will want to have this collection just to remind themselves frequently of why they love him, and it’s hard to really ruin a good Wilde play. People who aren’t yet Wilde fans will want to check these movies out to see what all the uproar is about, and they’ll soon learn how very witty and funny Wilde can be–and how close the bone he cuts modern society. You may not fall in love with the acting or the production values, but you’ll still be charmed by Wilde’s work, which is good enough to deserve stars of its own.