Film adaptations

Many directors have conquered stage versions of the play, but there have also been several film adaptations of The Importance of Being Earnest. Here we have a brief look at the 1952 and 2002 films.

The 1952 film directed by Anthony Asquith

This star studded production is mostly recognised for Edith Evan’s performance as Lady Bracknell. Many actors, including Ian McKellen, have noted the legacy of ‘a handbag?’, saying it has hindered performers even years later. Actors are often criticised for mimicking her barking tones and yet condemned if they don’t; it can be one of modern drama’s elephants in the room.

The rest of the cast were as follows:

Michael Redgrave as John Worthing
Michael Denison as Algernon Moncrieff
Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell
Joan Greenwood as Gwendolen Fairfax
Dorothy Tutin as Cecily Cardew
Margaret Rutherford as Miss Prism
Miles Malleson as Canon Chasuble
Aubrey Mather as Merriman
Walter Hudd as Lane
Richard Wattis as Seton


The 2002 film, directed by Oliver Parker

It would be foolish to discuss The Importance of Being Earnest without mentioning the 2002 film, which introduced a whole new audience to the staged play despite splitting the critics. The film was relatively true to the script with few embellishments, proving that Wilde’s writing is as humorous today as it was in the 19th Century. Judi Dench and Anna Massey returned from the 1982 stage version in their original roles as part of a star studded cast:

Colin Firth as John Worthing
Rupert Everett as Algernon Moncrieff
Frances O’Connor as Gwendolen
Reese Witherspoons as Cecily Cardew
Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell
Anna Massey as Miss Prism
Tom Wilkinson as Canon Chasuble
Patrick Godfrey as Merriman
Edward Fox as Lane
Charles Kay as Gribsby

What do you think of Dench’s delivery of ‘a handbag?’ in this clip from the interview scene?

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