The ideal husband of the title is none other than successful political Sir Robert Chiltern (Jeremy Northam). Upwardly mobile, and blessed with a wondrous wife, Gertrude (Cate Blanchett), Sir Robert seems to be perfect in every way. That is until Mrs. Cheveley (Julianne Moore) comes to town.
Early in Sir Robert's career, he made a mistake...a grievous one. However, he got away with it, and only one piece of evidence remains. That evidence is a letter now in the possession of the cunning Mrs. Cheveley. Sir Robert must do as she demands, or his entire life will be destroyed.
Adding to this mischief is Lord Goring (Rupert Everett), a confirmed bachelor with a wry overdose of wit. A good friend to both Sir Robert and Gertrude (as well as Sir Robert's lovestruck sister, Mabel (Minnie Driver)), Lord Goring has also had romantic ties to Mrs. Cheveley in the past. Now, he finds himself caught in the center of the machinations, and he must struggle to protect both his friends and his friendships.
Rupert Everett is the heart and soul of this movie, and he carries it off with healthy dollops of witty sarcasm. His Lord Goring is a delight both to watch and listen to. The movie positively crackles when he's onscreen.
It's a shame that the other characters aren't nearly as vibrant, but that doesn't make them bad, by any means. Julianne Moore is appropriately scheming, but is never reduced to a mere caricature of evil. Jeremy Northam and Cate Blanchett have the worst time, because their characters are so dreadfully bland in the face of the competition. However, they both remain sympathetic enough to root for. Minnie Driver seems out of place throughout most of the movie, but at least she's charmingly so.
Writer-director Oliver Parker penned this wonderful adaptation of Oscar Wilde's turn of the century play. Having previously truncated Shakespeare's Othello almost to the point of butchery, here he shows a slightly greater admiration for the source. There are a few changes, but they all seem to be ones for the better.
Don't let the period setting deceive you. This is not a staid drawing rooms and tea drama. Rather, it's a deliriously enjoyable comedy with dashes of plots and romance. Don't miss this one.
[PG-13 - brief sensuality and nudity] (Miramax)
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