11 March 2014 | SimonJack
Very good, second best film of Wilde satire
"An Ideal Husband" is Oscar Wilde's wonderful satire and spoof of English society in the late 19th century. It has been made into a film half a dozen times. If the 1999 movie had not been made, this 1969 BBC production for TV would surely rank number one. It is a very good film from most standpoints. The acting is superb, as is the directing. The script may be the truest to the original, as at least one other reviewer has commented. And the cast is a list of some of the top actors in England at the time.
By all means, I recommend that movie buffs watch this edition of "An Ideal Husband," given the chance. But for those who haven't seen any of the versions of this great comedy, I recommend watching this one first and then the 1999 movie, starring Rupert Everett. The 1947 film with Michael Wilding is also very good, and the later TV versions are OK. But none of those can compare to either of these two films.
It may not seem fair in this review to compare it to the other, 1999 film. But, comparing the strengths and weaknesses of one with the other is the best way I know to help others choose between films.
In general, I think all the actors but one were better suited for their roles in the 1999 film. As good as Jeremy Brett is in the role of Lord Goring in this earlier version, I don't think his persona matches Wilde's character as well as does Rupert Everett. A big difference is in the energy. While the cynicism, wit and satire are an even match with the two actors, Brett is full of much energy most of the time. It seems hardly fitting for one who is supposed to lead such a slothful life. Everett, on the other hand, is slower, far less energetic, and casual. He truly gives the air and impression of a self-centered dandy who leads a listless life of pleasure and sloth.
Most of the other leads in the 1999 film also have pluses. Julianne Moore gives a much stronger portrayal of a conniving, untrustworthy and nasty woman than does Margaret Leighton as Mrs. Cheveley. Jeremy Northam tops Keith Michell as Sir Robert Chiltern. Cate Blanchett is a more convincing and believable Lady Chiltern than is Dinah Sheridan. John Wood is much better than Charles Carson as Lord Caversham. Wood puts some bombast into the character, where Carson seems quite meek. And Peter Vaughan has a decided edge over Erik Chitty as Phipps. Vaughan's expressions and manners lend a nice touch to the comedy, compared to Chitty's role that is fairly matter-of-fact.
The one big exception I would make in the best casting is in the role of Mabel Chiltern. Susan Hampshire gets a decided nod for her portrayal in this 1969 film, over Minnie Driver's role in the 1999 movie. Driver is an excellent actress, but in this role, her persona is one of an intelligent young woman who seems wise to the machinations of Goring. I think Wilde meant her to be a little more flighty, and just a little naive. Susan Hampshire plays the part spot on in this early version.
One other general observation applies to the two protagonist women – Cheveley and Lady Chiltern. They are too old in this film. Both actresses look older than their counterpart men – Goring and Lord Chiltern. Also, this early TV version does seem stagy at times, and has the obvious limited sets.
Most of the lines were the same in both productions, true to the original. But I did notice some lines in each version that weren't in the other one. There were also a couple of variations in the plot. The ending is the biggest difference. In all of these cases, I think the 1999 movie is much funnier and even cleverly interpreted in a couple of places. I think the few lines omitted in the 1999 film from this 1969 version weren't very essential or even helpful to the play. But the considerable revision of the ending in the 1999 movie was excellent. It ended the story with a smash. If that's not the way Wilde wrote it originally, I think he would heartily approve of the change.