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An Ideal Husband review

First performed in 1895, the year of Oscar Wilde's imprisonment, An Ideal Husband is the subject of two compelling movie versions this year. Later in '99 there'll be a low-budget, all-British effort set in contemporary England, but first off is this lavish, Anglo-American, period co-production with an international cast.

What seems to have attracted both sets of film-makers is that Wilde's themes are so relevant today. Written when Wilde himself was suffering persecution, An Ideal Husband emerges here as a drama about a political scandal; as a plea for tolerance towards infallibility and human imperfection; and as a warning against our habitual tendency to idealise our partners. Director and screenwriter Oliver Parker (Othello) has attempted to open up the text by including a number of scenes  such as the ride in Hyde Park, the theatre trip and the crucial House Of Commons debate - that are only fleetingly referred to in the play. Yet despite these touches, An Ideal Husband can't seem to escape from its stage-bound origins.

In its favour, the dialogue is genuinely witty ("Morality is the attitude we adopt to people whom we don't like," quips one character); Michael Howells' production designs are suitably elegant; and there's a brace of excellent performances, in particular a suave and amusing Everett, and an agreeably duplicitous and alluring Moore.

However, it takes no unexpected risks nor goes off in unusual directions, unlike such stage-to-screen adaptations as Baz Luhrmann's gun-toting, pill-necking Romeo & Juliet. Right down to the camera set-ups and the editing style, An Ideal Husband is overly safe and predictable film-making. Oscar himself would not have approved of such timidity.

This is a slavishly faithful period adaptation, whose strengths lie in the sparkling dialogue and a string of polished performances. But the film-makers have failed to provide the necessary cinematic inspiration to turn it into anything other than a filmed play.

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