An Ideal Husband

Oscar Wilde
Network DVD
(2009)

Alexander Korda really was the master of the big budget movie in the years around the Second World War. He has lavished incredible sums of money and much effort in creating a film version of this Oscar Wilde morality play, released in 1947.

The Technicolor look is enhanced by bright and varied costumes designed by one of the greats of any era, Cecil Beaton. These, together with rather too many cardboard buildings, are used to take us back to 1895, when the world should have been innocent but most certainly was not.

The best of the frocks are all modelled on the beautiful Paulette Goddard, Charlie Chaplin's wife and waif (or gamine) in Modern Times a decade before, playing Mrs Cheveley. She is the perfect combination of evil and beauty, loved by every man and hated in equal measure by their fearful wives.

Her target on a widowed return to England is the seemingly unimpeachable government minister, Sir Robert Chiltern (Hugh Williams). She soon turns up a dark secret that he is more concerned about hiding from his devoted wife, played by Diana Wynyard, than the country.

In a parallel plot thread, a rake born a couple of hundred years too late, Michael Wilding's Lord Goring, ignores the charms of the Chilterns' daughter, a very young Glynis Johns as Mabel. He has far more time for the gorgeous femme fatale but, ultimately, despite much ragging from his father, comes up trumps when required.

That venerable old man was played by Sir C. Aubrey Smith, by that stage 85 but who was, not too long after the film was set, a captain of the England cricket team before setting off for a career playing archetypal Englishmen in Hollywood.

Those amused by or, as the case may be, dreading the impending introduction of a 50 per cent income tax rate will be fascinated to learn of a question raised in the House of Commons. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked whether he would be willing to reduce the uniform rate of income tax from eight pence (when there were 240 of them in a pound) or 3.33 per cent. Maybe the good old days really were innocent?

While An Ideal Husband does not have quite the verbal fireworks or unforgettable acting of Anthony Asquith's The Importance of Being Earnest, thanks to a beautifully constructed plot, this is another DVD that should be in everybody's collection.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher