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   AN IDEAL HUSBAND (1999) 

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CAST
Cate Blanchett
Minnie Driver
Rupert Everett
Julianne Moore
Jeremy Northam
John Wood
Peter Vaughan
Ben Pullen
Marsha Fitzalan
Lindsay Duncan

DIRECTED BY
Oliver Parker

PURCHASE


DVD




Novel




Time: 97 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drawing Room Comedy


I remember really wanting to see this movie when it was released in the theater. I usually love drawing room comedies and this one starred two of my favorite actress – Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett. I was willing to overlook the presence of Minnie Driver, since one could only believe that the talent of the cast surrounding her would raise the level of her acting. With Rupert Everett handling leading man duties, I thought I was in for a real treat. Well, I did like the film overall, but it wasn't exactly what I expected. I can't even put my finger on what was missing, it just didn't float my boat the way I anticipated. The romance was ravishing, the dialogue superbly witty and the acting wonderful, and yet I came away feeling quite empty. I wasn't prepared for such a light-hearted trifle. Everyone is so cookie-cutter – either sinfully wicked or upstandingly moral – you already now the outcome of their actions before the film has scarcely begun. So the inevitable, is, well, inevitable. Though some rather "naughty" actions are revealed about the "good" people, they aren't anything worth fussing over. Oh my goodness, people are telling lies. To what immoral depths will they sink to next? Wearing the wrong outfit to dinner?

The film begins at the height of the London season right around the turn of the century, the last one that is. Everyone is out being seen and looking fabulous. The women are looking for rich husbands and the men are desperately trying to maintain their freedom. One couple, Gertrud (Blanchett) and Sir Robert Chiltern (Northam), don't have to worry about that. They are already married and hopelessly in love. On the forefront of high society, they have the chance to become ever more respected and well-liked due to Sir Robert's current position in Parliament. He is to give a speech about a new canal scheme that could very well send his political career through the roof. He's dead set against this venture until he meets up with the very vicious Mrs. Cheveley (Moore) who has other ideas. She's invested heavily in this scheme and threatens to ruin his reputation and therefore his political future by divulging a past indiscretion that enabled him to build his fortune. Sir Robert turns to his best friend Lord Goring (Everett), a charming playboy and the most sought after bachelor in town, for help.


"To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance."

Goring was actually engaged to the lovely, yet scheming Mrs. Cheveley once upon a time and tries to persuade her using all his gorgeous powers to leave Sir Robert alone. She'd love to oblige, but she needs the money and is secretly pleased that what hurts Sir Robert will doubly hurt his upstanding wife with whom she went to school and never liked. However, she is willing to bargain – she'll trade the money she intends to squeeze out of Sir Robert for Lord Goring's fortune by becoming his wife. Goring is receiving pressure from all sides to take a wife, but he is a romantic at heart and wants to marry for love. Besides, he's become quite fascinated with Sir Robert's younger sister Mabel (Driver) and doesn't want to permanently close that door. Things heat up when Sir Robert refuses to give in to Mrs. Cheveley's demands. Not to be outplayed she sets all hell loose by telling Gertrud about her husband's not so upstanding past. Lord Goring is pulled from all sides to set things right, putting a plan into motion that depends on Sir Robert's character and places his freedom on the line. What we learn in the end is that sometimes telling the truth is a liability and sometimes it can get you everything you desire. You just have to know which situation is which. You also have to remember that no one is perfect.

AN IDEAL HUSBAND is a charming mesh of lies and betrayal, as well as love and forgiveness. The actors give their characters more depth than they rightfully deserve, making this more than just a light-hearted morality play. Mostly, the characters move about from one gorgeously appointed room to another, wearing fabulous clothes and trying to figure out who's behind what little bit of intrigue. The plot is just complicated enough to be intriguing and fun, yet not at all difficult to follow. Julianne Moore's wicked portrayal of Mrs. Cheveley is definitely worth the price of admission. She's an evil, yet delicate flower just looking to be well cared for and perhaps even loved. Not that she deserves it, but we end up feeling somewhat sad for her fate. In this case, she gambles and loses, not only a small fortune, but one thinks the only chance she'll have for happiness. It's due to Moore's prodigious talent that you care what happens to her at all.

As for the rest of the crew, one couldn't think of anyone more suited to play the charming rake who gambles with his own chance at love than Rupert Everett. He is at times both boorish and sensitive, witty and completely daft. His performance is at the core of the film and if he was even half the actor he is, HUSBAND wouldn't work at all. Jeremy Northam seems to be stuck in period roles with which he does quite well. He plays Sir Robert with just the right amount of guilt and indignation. There's a smidgen of doubt close to the end of the film where you just don't know how he's going to solve his dilemma, which gives the film some moral suspense and a hero to root for. Ms. Blanchett is wonderful as always, if a little too upstanding in her attitudes. Her's is the hardest lesson learned in the film and the greatest character change. It turns out that her indiscretion is almost the one to topple her marriage, which is a hard fact to swallow. I enjoy her acting more and more every time I see her. Minnie Driver manages not to ruin the entire movie by actually being funny and clever throughout most of the film. Her look of bug-eyed surprise does make an appearance, but thankfully not very often.

All in all, if you like period pieces with a little bit of romance, intrigue and witty banter, you'll most definitely probably love this flick. Oscar Wilde, who wrote the play upon which it's based, was the author of some of the most clever one-liners in history and many of them are on display here. Not only funny, there are pointedly insightful, running the gamut from politics and the press to love and romance. Dialogue and innuendo doesn't get much better than this. I guess the main thing that bothered me was that the ending was too happy, too clean. Everybody learns a life-lesson, but no one has to pay for it. It is a comedy after all, so I suppose I can't be that picky. It's better than most of the garbage out there. It's not everyday that a comedy stimulates your mind as well as your funnybone.



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