At first I thought it was just the air conditioning. Pleasantly cool in the theater compared to the sweltering outdoor temperatures, any movie would seem great, I said. Then the quirkiness began – offbeat movies are some of my favorites – and I thought that was it – an hour and a half of air conditioning and some intelligent, witty humor.
But it quickly became clear that “An Ideal Husband” was going to more than that. Based on the play by Oscar Wilde, this film set in late 19th century London captivates the viewer with its humor, insight and brilliant acting.
Cate Blanchett (“Elizabeth”) plays Lady Gertrud Chiltern, a beautiful and seemingly perfect wife of a successful, and equally perfect British government minister. They have an idyllic life together until a conniving former schoolmate of Gertrud’s, Laura Cheveley played by Julianne Moore, blackmails Sir Robert Chiltern, played by Jeremy Northam (who also stars in this season’s less insightful British period film “The Winslow Boy”).
Robert’s long-time friend Lord Goring, played so perfectly pompously by Rupert Everett, comes to the rescue – but not without forcing someone, namely Lady Gertrud, to break her rigid moral boundaries.
The movie, which is filmed in such a way as to retain the intimacy of a play while allowing the freedoms of a film, is a tale of the value of honesty and the necessity of deceit.
While the literal offenses deemed highly immoral and unthinkable in the film seem out-of-date in today’s social and political climate, Gertrud, the most moral figure, allows viewers to stretch the lessons to today’s environment.
Her intense honesty seems incompatible with a continued romance with Lord Chiltern, who she now knows is flawed. However, it becomes clear that in life – then and now – some things need to be overlooked for the sake of happiness, and in some cases, ones own moral compass needs to be compromised in order to preserve that happiness.
The film’s morality lesson becomes even more ironic when Lord Goring does a noble deed by agreeing to marry Cheveley even though he does not love her in order to help his friends.
The morality lessons are important to the amazing quality of the film, but the humor and lightness which pervades all aspects are even more entertaining.
Everett plays Lord Goring with the perfect mix of abhorrent self-centered qualities and likeable charm. His courtship-of-sorts with Mabel Chiltern, Lord Chiltern’s sister played by Minnie Driver (“Circle of Friends” and “Good Will Hunting”) is hilarious. Driver performs wonderfully, as do all actors in this star-filled film – most notably Blanchett and Everett.
This film also replicates many of the quintessential Wilde lines in the play. “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance,” Goring says to his butler in one scene.
Its quiet charm and small, self-confident manner make this film perfect for the summer season so normally filled with no-brainer action movies.
“An Ideal Husband” is much more than a few hours of coolness – it’s a delectable treat that is so far one of the best movies of the year.