"An Ideal Husband" boasts an impeccable pedigree: a fine cast headed by always-suave Rupert Everett, screenplay based on Oscar Wilde's play, dazzling 1890s costumes and a very timely
premise: a rising politician and the scheming woman who's got the goods on his scandalous past. All the ingredients for a delicious, effervescent stinging comedy of manners and mores in the
tradition of "Sense and Sensibility" but it's a lukewarm affair that never fulfills its promise. What a shame.
Director Oliver Parker plods through his lolloping screenplay with all the
subtlety of an arthritic rhino, failing to create any sparks with a quite remarkable cast and scintillating story. His uneven screenplay is larded with scenes that are too long and meandering, and it
takes forever to set up the story. When things finally get rolling (greatly aided by Julianne Moore's vicious, eternally smiling Mrs. Cheverly) he wastes too much time letting Mabel (Minnie
Driver) flounce about making a lot of faces, and stiffly tries to set up atmosphere and character in a few very awkward scenes.
Gertude (Cate Blanchett, of 'Elizabeth') is
supposed to be a rising political star and very bullheaded, but we see no evidence of this except the end of a woman's rights meeting. Okaayy...... Even the strong presence of Jeremy Northam (from 'Emma' and 'The Net')
as Robert, teetering on the brink of ruin, fails to light a fire under this tale of political intrigue and drawing-room betrayals. Scenes lack both juice and meat!
Parker fails to realize that costume drama succeeds despite of, not because of, its pretty trappings. And they are pretty. All the gowns are dazzling, as is Rupert, who is called
upon to do very little except toss off a witty line and look charming, until the last third of the movie. Ah, he does look marvelous, especially in the steam-bath scene.
Excellent costumes distill the essence of the late Victorian period, very good job expressing the character's personalities through their costumes (note Arthur's sleek and
flashy clothes, Mrs. Cheverly's sensual, daring gowns and Gertrude's sensible outfits). Interesting note: most of the jewelery is the real thing. Production design is cluttered but quite
good. Lighting is poor, with a few exceptions, and photography
is muddy and weak. More emphasis should have been placed on better indoor photography with such a handsome cast and strong production values. It's too murky, and one shouldn't have to strain to see expressions, in a light romantic comedy. ANY shot where Rupert appears to have eye-bags is very poorly done.
Despite a lackluster script and bad lighting, Rupert handles himself with the ease of a panther, tossing off witty quips with aplomb, yet successfully showing Lord Goring does have a good heart under
his determinedly louche existence. He's a fantastic comedian with fine timing, with the depth to communicate sufficient emotional complexity required to make us believe this dilettante would go
to ridiculous lengths to help his friend Robert and protect Gertrude's reputation. He has a number of very funny scenes, delivering his jabs with an insolent wit and droll delivery. It's too bad
such amusing scenes don't add up to a whole movie. Julianne Moore is terrifically hissable as the conniving Mrs. Cheverly (whose name is wonderfully mangled by Minnie Driver's spunky character).
The cast plays beautifully off each other, demonstrating a remarkably consistent chemistry between everyone. All the actors handle their lines, with very good attention to delivery, particularly
Moore as the dangerous outsider. Her purring, smiling Mrs. Cheverly is one part Catwoman, one part Linda Fiorentino's Bridget from 'The Last Seduction' and the remainder, a humorous spin on Glenn
Close's Madame Merteuil from 'Dangerous Liasions.'
It's too bad the director wasn't better versed in the subtleties of drawing-room battle. Lackadaisical pace drains momentum and tension from
scenes that should jump off the screen. Result: very attractive actors doing a good job with decent lines and a movie that fizzles out. Costume work
is superb and should get a nod come Oscar time. A light trifle, worth renting for Rupert's steam room scene. WOW.
Watch Martin Scorsese's masterful "The Age of Innocence" or the
icy "Dangerous Liasions" for well costumed, emotionally gripping tales of life-altering blackmail in genteel society.