A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this cinematic interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s delightful period novel is enjoyable, indeed, and contains little content of concern. There’s plenty of deception and lying, all played for laughs, and some social drinking and smoking, but for the most part the film is fine for young teens and up.
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What's the story?
Jack (Colin Firth), a wealthy Englishman with a country estate and a distaste for the obligatory social engagements that accompany his status, creates a fictional brother “Ernest” who lives in London, providing a convenient excuse to skip off to the city anytime he wants some fun. All is well until he falls in love with Gwendolen (Frances O’Connor), while in character as Ernest. Meanwhile, his best friend Algernon (Rupert Everett) pays an unannounced visit to the country home, pretending to be Ernest as a ruse to woo Jack’s young ward Cecily (Reese Witherspoon). Confusion and hilarity ensue when Gwendolen also sets off for the countryside in search of Ernest and the women discover they are both in love with “Ernest” in this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy of Victorian-era manners.
Is it any good?
It’s hard to botch anything that starts with dialog from Wilde, one of the English language’s most witty writers, and this period production stays faithful to his clever words. The story is immensely entertaining, and the acting, for the most part, is first-rate. Firth is in fine form as a serious gentlemen pressing his request for Gwendolen’s hand in marriage, and Everett holds his own as a charming rogue.
The women are almost as good, though sometimes they seem thinly drawn; Withespoon’s English accent slips on occasion, and she and O’Connor are awfully quick to forgive their suitors’ joint deception. Dame Judi Dench anchors the production as Gwendolen’s outraged mother with a mercenary heart (and a dubious background) whose biggest concern is marrying off her daughter into a suitable family, and few actresses can handle a simmering glower of indignation better than Dench. But it all comes back to the story, considered one of Wilde’s best, and the quick verbal repartee is well worth viewing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about deception. Why do Algy and Jack both create fictional alter-egos? What do you think about the ruse? How realistic is the deception?
Why is Aunt Augusta so fixated on the backgrounds of her daughter’s suitors? What does she think is the most important trait for a potential son-in-law, character or wealth? What do you think?
- In theaters: May 17, 2002
- On DVD or streaming: November 12, 2002
- Cast: Colin Firth, Judi Dench, Reese Witherspoon, Rupert Everett
- Director: Oliver Parker
- Studio: Miramax
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild sensuality
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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