The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

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BBC 7, 11 October 2009
First broadcast in 1995, this centenary production of Wilde's classic by Glyn Dearman boasted a stellar cast including Dame Judi Dench, Samantha Bond, Michael Sheen, Martin Clunes, Michael Hordern and Miriam Margolyes.
The production’s entertaining, on account of its sharply individualized performances. Its best aspect is the work of Clunes and Sheen, as the two upper-class friends who know the importance of the well-placed word just as they know the best dish on a club’s menu and its complementary wine. Clunes' boyish, self-impressed Algy is the perfect foil for Sheen’s smarter Jack, aware of his humorous turns of phrase. The production’s two ingenues are less well matched. Bond's Gwendolen has a purring voice and wide-eyed faux innocence, but she doesn’t show us those little traits that will later turn her into her mother, Lady Bracknell. Amanda Root’s Cecily, naive on the surface, proves knowing (if not quite worldly) in manipulating those around her. Too bad, though, that the fight between the women feels so flat.

There’s wonderful interplay between Hordern’s Reverend Chasuble and Margolyes' Miss Prism, he the nervous, mooning cleric, she the woman of uncertain age yearning for a partner. Then there’s Dench’s Lady Bracknell. Having already played the role on stage in the mid-80s (and later repeating it on film in Oliver Parker's flat 2002 version), she knows how to make the best of Wilde's lines; her emphases and pauses, even her seeming verbal mispronunciations frequently win over listeners. She likes to make little jokes that she, if no one else, appreciates.