The Importance of Being Earnest Movie Poster Image

The Importance of Being Earnest



Romance and deception in Wilde's clever comedy of manners.
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 2002
  • Running Time: 93 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

While true love conquers all, the characters in this witty period drama think that lying is an acceptable way to win their beloved’s heart, or avoid their creditors. Some of the people seem more interested in a suitor’s bank balance than his character.

Positive role models

A man runs away, literally, from his debtors. Others lies about their identities. All is played for laughs.

Not applicable

Courtship and flirting. Some tender kissing.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Period-appropriate social drinking and smoking.

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.

Parents say

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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.

Families can talk 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:May 17, 2002
DVD/Streaming release date:November 12, 2002
Cast:Colin Firth, Judi Dench, Reese Witherspoon, Rupert Everett
Director:Oliver Parker
Topics:Book characters
Run time:93 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:mild sensuality

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Teen, 13 years old Written byOrful Dorful November 23, 2011


Having read the play in a school English lesson, to watch the film was interesting. Overall it was absolutely fantastic, but between us we managed to come up with some bad points, that could have been avoided. We thought the actress who played Gwendolen, as brilliant as she was, seemed a little too old for both John Worthing and Cecily. In the scene when her and Cecily had found out about John and Algernon being John and Algernon instead of Ernest and Ernest, it seemed to some of us as if Gwendolen looked almost like Cecily's mother. The tatoo seemed far too out of place with the rest of the film and I think they could have found a better way to convey that Gwendolen loved the name Ernest. They seemed to miss the entire point of the play. The scenes with the discoveries of Algernon and John actually being Algernon and John seemed rather put aside. It dissapointed us, as we felt it was a significant part of the story and had paid a lot of attention to it in lessons. There were a few other parts that I found a bit modern for how I'd imagained it, and Cecily's fantasies were thought of as unnecessary. There were some very funny, well played parts though. When Lady Bracknell was interviewing John raised a positive argument in our lesson. We found it was done very well, and veryt funnily. The piano moving into the house was also done well. The director clearly took advantage at this. It couldn't have been done on stage, so to have it in the film was well placed. The bulk of the casting was brilliant. Colin Firth and Judi Dench were absolutely fantastic (in my opinion), and the actress to play Cecily was superb. I don't think Colin Firth and the actress to play Gwendolen worked with each other too well, so I thought it ruined the sparks and the love between them as characters. Over all it was a truly phenomenal film. I'd recommend it to anyone - The Importance of Being Earnest.
Teen, 13 years old Written byPoppy.bath February 13, 2016

soooooooo good

everything about this movie is amazing, the actors, the story, the set arrggghhhh so freakin' amazing!!
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models