Rupert Everett is an ideal Wildean protagonist. He delivers Wilde's witty dialogue in An Ideal Husband with relish and perfect timing. Lord Goring's victims feel charmed, even flattered, when they're being insulted.He's the standout in a carefully selected cast. All the principals are a good match for the descriptions that Wilde originally gave them in 1895. Julianne Moore is an excellent Lady Cheveley - the play's icy, blackmailing villain. Occasionally she seems a little too precise with her dialogue, and struggles with the unfamiliar English accent. Jeremy Northam and Cate Blanchett are fine, individually, as the blackmailed politician and his morally upright wife. Unfortunately they have no chemistry when they're together. Minnie Driver's ditzy Mabel Chiltern suffers most in the transition from stage to screen. Her character loses many of her witty lines; she is more of a petulant child than an equal sparring partner for Lord Goring.
Wilde's play was more than a comedy of manners about the search for a husband. He touched on issues of morality, wealth and the class system. Director Oliver Parker (who also adapted the play) shifts the focus to matrimonial matters and cuts many of Wilde's speeches about politics and the abuse of power. The play loses its context, and comes to resemble Pride and Prejudice (without the benefit of Jane Austen's attention to detail). The background and motivation of characters are diminished, and the actors are left floundering as a result. Parker also repeats the mistake he made when adapting Othello - leaving the end of the play virtually intact and cutting heavily from earlier scenes. The denouement of An Ideal Husband's final scene seems endless, and Lady Cheveley is dispatched too early and too easily.Parker's best innovation is presenting the climactic Parliamentary debate on screen, but I could have done without the gratuitous staging of The Importance of Being Earnest, complete with appearance by Wilde. Parker would have better served his talented cast by allowing them to tell the story as Wilde intended it.