The well-known 1895 play, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, and the 2002 film adaptation by Miramax Films directed by Oliver Parker overall captures the plot, characters, and the setting of the original work. The original play follows an Englishman named Jack, who lives as an alter-ego named Ernest. He cares for his adopted father’s granddaughter, Cecily. Ernest is his fictional brother that he often uses as an alibi to leave town, where he falls for his best friend Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolen. Algernon discovers that Ernest is really Jack, and decides to steal Ernest’s identity to get with Cecily, since she showed interest in Ernest. Through a plot-twist, we discover that Jack is truly Algernon’s older brother, and the cousin of his lover, Gwendolen. Overall, the 2002 film captures the true spirit of the original text in all aspects, with the addition of comedy, settings, and plots to make it more enjoyable to the modern audience.
In the original play, there is no means to jump from location to location, but in the film this is possible, allowing for an addition of extra scenes. For example, the film opens up with a scene of Algernon running from two men, which is completely different from how to original play opens up. The addition of this scene creates a sense of mystery and keeps the viewer wondering for more, which is something that Wilde is unable to achieve in a live play. Other dialogues from the play are cut-short throughout the film, such as the scene where Algernon has a conversation with one of his butlers named Lane. He talks to him about his bills, but doesn’t continue the conversation about Lane’s married life like he does in Wilde’s original text. Additionally, in the text, Act 1 happens in Algernon’s home, but in the film we get several new locations added, such as the club where we are first introduced to Jack. We also get to see flashbacks of Jack’s childhood, which is something the filmmakers took advantage of, as to do so in a play would be difficult.
One addition to the film was the scene where Gwendolen gets a tattoo of the name “Ernest.” This scene further develops the idea that Gwendolen wishes to be with someone named Ernest, which is true to the text. We can also see a difference in the comedy of the two works. The comedy in the film is much more nonsensical, whilst the text’s humor is more suited for the time in which it was written – over a century ago. The addition of more humorous jokes in the film allows for a better understanding by the viewer. The jokes made by Wilde in the original text wouldn’t be relevant in today’s time. The comedic style used in the film, in my opinion, is superior due to the fact that it is easier to understand than the style originally used by Wilde.
Overall, the portrayal of the characters from the text are true to themselves in the film. One difference in the film version is the age of Jack. In the text, Jack is 29 years old, but in the film, he is 35 years old. This change could have been made to better reflect the actual age of the actor Colin Firth at the time. Despite this change, Firth perfectly captures the image of an amiable Englishman as envisioned through the text.
In my opinion, the Miramax film stays true to the original text in all areas. It tells the overall idea and dialogue that Wilde portrayed in the original play. The minor changes were made in order to modernize the original work, as well as extend the run-time to meet cinematic standards. The addition of the extra settings such as the casino, Lady Bracknell’s house, tattoo parlor, and church made the film overall more enjoyable as the storyline is expanded into these additional settings. Additionally, the modernized humor and comedic style of the film created an overall better experience.
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