Written by: Oliver Parker
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore, Jeremy Northam, John Wood
Measurements of decorum and respect mean the world in high society, where success can be destroyed by a little smidge of dishonor and disrepute. It allows for something from the past to be a stone to tumble anyone’s house of cards and continually pushes the characters of An Ideal Husband to make their decisions in the name of it all. Even with the threatening blackmail involved, this feature knows how to be a delectable delight with such a fun cast of characters.
Known by all to be an upstanding citizen and contributor to the world, Sir Robert Chiltern (Jeremy Northam) receives word of knowledge of the shady way he got his start in politics. With the potential news having the ability to sink his entire career, he gets put to the test in his principles to go against his word for his reputation.
The power of a little bit of blackmail cannot be underestimated and really can bring someone as respectable as Robert Chiltern to their breaking point of betraying their very word. The main driving point of this feature and it makes sense in the world established here. It brings together different parties with large interests in the political power he waves and getting the piece of dirt garnered from his past serves as the ultimate opportunity to do so. While this certainly has serious implications for Robert, for the rest of the characters, it becomes a game of who can outwit the other, which really drives the fun of the entire feature moving forward.
This mostly comes from Lord Arthur Goring and the wonderful performance given by Rupert Everett. Very much the Cassanova of his town, the man loves to have promiscuous nights out with bachelorettes despite his father essentially begging the lad to settle down and get married. Despite living in dishonor in this manner, he still manages to navigate his way in this society with plenty of friends and he proves why in the wily ways he can help others and the genuine loyalty he holds for the individuals he cares about. Despite everything else going on in the story, the man has the least amount of red in his ledger as opposed to others, which says plenty of the way this society views premarital sex.
An Ideal Husband comes as an adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play of the very same name and this feature knows how to draw a strong balance in the seriousness of this story for Robert and the fun little games it likes to play through Goring and the other women of the narrative. All of it occurs under the larger rules of what can be deemed acceptable in this society and while it may appear silly, at times, to a more contemporary audience, watching these characters navigate between the lines makes for such an entertaining ride. Especially when you have someone as self-serious as Lady Gertrude Chiltern (Cate Blanchett), Robert’s wife, and then the introduction of Mrs. Laura Cheveley (Julianne Moore) who truly drives the bus of chaos right through this narrative. Operating on these two levels does this film such favor and as the tones clash and weave together throughout, it comes together in such an entertaining and enjoyable manner.
The trio of leading women brought together to work the emotional weight of the feature all do a tremendous job in their roles and capture the exact sentiments of what tier roles need to portray. Blanchett as Gertrude brings the large importance of honor to the story while Minnie Driver as Miss Mabel brings her comedic sensibilities and Julianna Moore as Mrs. Laura Cheveley brings the necessary venom to bring the bite of the story. Their work as actors along with Rupert Everett truly pushes the story forward as much as the drama lies in Robert being ousted for a past indiscretion. They essentially become the stars of the show making everything work behind the scenes and the two levels in which this film operates certainly boost its efforts.
Respect and virtue to an almost comical degree, Oscar Wilde knew what they were doing with An Ideal Husband and the adaptation of the play gets right at the sentiment captured in the story. It takes itself seriously enough for the potential consequences to have stakes but never loses its sight on the insightful and fun humor serving as the main driving force of the story. Viewing how these characters operate with the silly veil of honor hanging over them becomes such a fun experience and allows this story to feel unique in the way it prods at the very society it wants to uphold.