Fifty years after the making of this quintessentially British comic classic it was remade starring Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Judi Dench and the then almost incandescently hot Reese Witherspoon, to give it a bit of global appeal. That’s a great cast – three Oscar-winners and a scene-stealer par excellence (see Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding for evidence of that). So no argument there. But they still couldn’t beat the original. That’s because they really really don’t make them like this any more. No one speaks like Edith “a handbag” Evans. No one resembles Margaret Rutherford’s preposterously dotty, doting Miss Prism. As to direction, what hotshot these days would settle for the approach of Anthony Asquith – put actors on stage, bung camera in front of them, shout “action” – a technique so simple it’s almost avant-garde? It was typical of Asquith, who knew not to get in Oscar Wilde’s way, especially when Wilde is delivering a story about subterfuge and false identity that teeters on the edge of the unfollowable, that’s when he’s not delivering epigram by the kilogram. The two male leads, Michael Redgrave and Michael Dennison, are possibly a full decade too old, it’s true, but everything else is as bright and perfect as the Technicolor cinematography. Interesting factoid: it was Asquith’s father, as Home Secretary (and a future Prime Minister), who had ordered the arrest of Oscar Wilde for homosexual acts.
© Steve Morrissey 2013