Movie Magazine International

An Ideal Husband

UK - 1999

Movie Review By Casey McCabe

In an ideal world, politicians would place the needs of the country over their own political ambitions, no one would ever have to worry about something as plentiful as money, and weíd all have a delightfully witty comeback for every conversation. This is the world of An Ideal Husband, a new romantic comedy directed by Oliver Parker and based on the play by Oscar Wilde.

The year is 1895, the place is London, the time is referred to simply as "the season", apparently some kind of spring mating ritual for the local aristocracy, who party hop in horse drawn carriages and treat each elegant social affair as tiresome duty. In classic British understatement hormones never rage, they just dwell in stiff upper lips.

The ideal husband in question is Sir Robert Chiltern, a fast-rising and well-respected politician played with dashing earnestness by Jeremy Northam. Cate Blanchett plays his stalwart wife, Minnie Driver his coquettish younger sister, and Rupert Everett his best friend, Lord Goring, a fantastically wealthy and narcissistic playboy who wears his ambitionless sloth as a badge of honor.

The proverbial fly in this ointment is the recently widowed Mrs. Cheveley, played with curious restraint by Julianne Moore. She arrives on the scene with a nasty agenda behind her placid smile. Mrs. Cheveley holds some damning evidence against Sir Robert - the Victorian England equivalent of a blue dress from the Gap - and she is fabulously situated to play a game of blackmail. Her reasons are both financial and personal, though neither makes perfect sense. It seems Mrs. Cheveley just enjoys making people squirm.

From here, An Ideal Husband stays true to its roots as a classic drawing room comedy. Webs get weaved, identities mistaken, motivations misunderstood, entanglements more entangled, and of course timing is everything.

The best timing comes courtesy of Rupert Everett's Sir Goring, playing the part no doubt closest to Oscar Wilde's heart. Everett has the cleverest lines, the best glances and by far the most interesting character to develop. The gay sidekick in My Best Friend's Wedding, Everett once again proves he can steal scenes as a leading man.

Unfortunately, An Ideal Husband squanders some of its clever good will with a highly accelerated series of late-breaking twists and resolutions designed to ensure that everyone trots off happily into the sunset. A common device in the romantic comedy to be sure, but a bit forced in this film, which strives so valiantly not to be common.

So An Ideal Husband is less than perfect. Like Lord Goring, it perhaps loves itself a bit too much. Still, it is a pleasant way to break up those tedious hours between high tea and the Prime Ministerís Reception.

© 1999 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 06/23/99

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