Sir Robert Chiltern (Northam) has a devoted wife, an impeccable character, and expectation of a Cabinet post. Then he's introduced to the unconventional Mrs Cheveley (Moore) and his world is upended. She has evidence that he made his fortune in a stock market scam, and threatens exposure unless he reports favourably to the House on an expensive canal project in which she has invested heavily. While Chiltern struggles with his conscience, his wife Gertrude (Blanchett) and his urbane best friend Lord Goring (Everett) conspire against Cheveley, whose true character they know full well. Wilde's play still feels all too relevant in its witty dissection of public and private morality, but this adaptation doesn't really capitalise on its strengths. For a start, writer/director Parker has 'opened out' the material with such breathless zeal the effect is quite suffocating. He seems to want us to empathise with Sir Robert and the insufferably virtuous Gertrude, in effect nullifying Wilde's satire and landing poor Northam and Blanchett with thankless roles. The comedy works better, and the film brightens up considerably whenever the insouciant Everett and flighty Driver (as Mabel Chiltern) get down to the serious business of small talk. In fact, for those of a patient disposition, the last act is very enjoyable. The bright, crisp design, Wilde's arch eloquence and a classy company help to camouflage the shortcomings.
Cast and crew
Simon Russell Beale