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THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

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NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by: foroceansblue who says... "I will never be able to do justice to the genius of Oscar Wilde’s pithy and witty prose, but here is my best effort in producing a rendition of a wonderful movie (and an even more wonderful play)"

The film opens with Algernon Montcrieff (Rupert Everett) running through the streets of 1895 London, being chased by two men in black coats and bowler hats. He eventually dodges them by jumping onto the running board of a passing carriage, leaping off only when it is driven through the street on which his house is.

In Woolton (a part of the English countryside), Jack Worthing (Colin Firth) is getting ready to board his carriage for London. As he leaves, he explains to his butler, Merriman, that his brother Ernest is once again in a trouble in London and needs his help. He also asks Merriman if his cigarette case has been found yet. Merriman says no. Jack nods and instructs Miss Prism, a tutor, to continue pushing forward with teaching his ward, Cecily (Reese Witherspoon) German grammar. With that, he departs for the city.

Back in London, Algie receives yet another overdue bill in the mail. His debts are piling up, but he is still a gentlemen’s gentleman, living a carefree life in an elegant London home with maids and a butler called Lane. Algie is not daunted by the bills accumulating, but instead, plays his piano and looks forward to a rousing night at the cabaret. There, he meets Jack, who also decided to drop by the cabaret that night. But Algie addresses Jack as Ernest.

The two chat amicably, but Ernest/Jack grows serious when the topic of Gwendolen (Frances O'Connor) comes up. Gwendolen is Algie’s cousin, and Ernest/Jack is hopelessly in love with her. Algie tries to temper Ernest’s enthusiasm, saying that he won’t have a chance in the world to win Gwendolen: Ernest will never gain the approval of Gwendolen’s mother, Lady Bracknell (Judi Dench). Ernest insists that love will win the day, but Algie shakes his head, saying that not only will Lady Bracknell not approve, she will be even less happy when she finds out about Cecily. Ernest/Jack is surprised. He didn’t think anyone in London knows about Cecily. He lies, saying that Cecily is his aunt. Algie smiles a secret smile, and brings out a cigarette case, which Ernest/Jack immediately recognizes as the one he lost. Algie then asks Ernest/Jack why on earth an aunt would give a nephew a cigarette case inscribed with the message, “From little Cecily, with her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack.” It does not make sense that an aunt will call her nephew an uncle – but more importantly, it doesn’t make sense why Ernest will claim the cigarette case as his when his name is not Jack. Ernest confesses, saying he is Ernest in the city, and Jack in the country. His stories about a troublesome brother Ernest are only excuses to allow him trips to the city as often as he wishes.

Algie smiles, saying that he had always suspected that Ernest was an “advanced Bunburyist”. Ernest is confused, but Algie explains: Algie, in order to allow himself trips to the country whenever he wants, has invented an invalid called Bunbury who often falls ill when Algie needs to get out of town. Ernest is still on uneven footing after being found out by Algie, but he’s willing to trust Algie with keeping his secret and double identity. Algie, delighted with his new discovery, invites Ernest to tea at his home the next day. Ernest is reluctant to go, until Algie mentions that tea will be served at 4, in time for the arrival of Aunt Augusta (Lady Bracknell) and Gwendolen. Ernest immediately accepts.

The next afternoon, Ernest and Algie are waiting in Algie’s drawing room as four o’clock strikes. Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen arrive and are shown into the drawining room. Ernest is completely awkward and shy. Lady Bracknell kisses Algie on the cheek and sweeps past Ernest without so much as a hello. Gwendolen, however, flirts quite shamelessly with him whenever her mother is not watching. Algie whispers in Ernest’s ear that he will soon distract Lady Bracknell so that Ernest may declare his love to Gwendolen without the dragon lady overhearing. Ernest nods and waits until Algie and Lady Bracknell retreat to the next room to discuss the musical arrangement for her dinner gala the following night.

Ernest stumbles through his words, as Gwendolen waits impatiently for Ernest to come out with his feelings. Ernest finally manages to say that he loves her. Gwendolen sighs, saying she knows already and wishes that he’d been more forward in the past and how silly of him not to know that she’s in love with him too. Ernest is ecstatic and says he is so happy and how absolutely lovely that they will be able to get married. Gwendolen agrees, saying that she has always wanted to marry a man named Ernest. Ernest is shocked and fumbles, saying that he never liked the name Ernest and really quite likes the name Jack. Gwendolyn disagrees, saying Ernest is the name for her. She also protests that they are talking about marriage, but Ernest has yet to propose! Ernest, embarrassed, gets down on one knee and prepares to propose, but in walks Lady Bracknell, who puts a quick end to things. She demands that Ernest show up at her house the next day at 3 so that she may question him on several matters before deciding on whether he ought to propose to Gwendolyn. Before Gwendolen leaves, she asks Ernest to give her his address in the country, so she might write to him while he is away. Ernest agrees – not knowing that Algie is eavesdropping and noting down the address as well.

The next day, Ernest gets the third degree from Lady Bracknell. It turns out that Ernest never knew his parents (which elicits one of the funnier lines in the play by Lady Bracknell: “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness”) because he was found in a large handbag in the cloakroom of Victoria Station. This seals his fate and Ernest is told to get himself a family before considering any type of marriage.

That night Ernest returns to the country, determined to put an end to his “Bunburying” before he is found out by everyone. He is also determined to get christened as Ernest when he returns to Woolten. Unbeknownst to him, Algie had arrived ahead of him in Woolten, posing as Ernest. So when Ernest/Jack arrives, he could not carry out his story about how his brother had died. In fact Algie/Ernest is very much alive, and after spending some time with young Cecily, very much in love with her.

It all comes to a head when Gwendolen arrives in Woolten, meets Cecily and the two of them find out that they are both engaged to an Ernest Worthing. The two become enemies, arguing and trying to outdo each other, until Algie and Jack come strolling up and are confronted by the women. Both confess that neither of them are called Ernest and before they can explain further, the two women (now joining forces and the best of friends) stomp off in anger. The two men try their best to win back their loves, and eventually they are forgiven.

Both confess that they are getting christened that afternoon. Both of the women are elated that they would be willing to do such a thing. The celebrations come to a halt when Lady Bracknell arrives unannounced (having followed Gwendolen from London). She is appalled that such things have happened without her knowing. She tells Gwendolen to get into the carriage and is about to leave when she finds out that Cecily has quite an inheritance. She changes her tune and agrees that she would be a good match for Algie (her nephew), who has no money. Jack however, plays his trump card. He says that he will not give consent, as Cecily’s guardian, to her marriage to Algie unless Lady Bracknell gives her consent to his marriage to Gwendolyn. Lady Bracknell absolutely refuses and gets ready to leave. Dr Chasuble, the reverend who is to christen Jack and Algie arrives at just that moment, and finds out that both of the marriages have been called off. He then begins to leave, saying that if they needed him, he would be in the vestry with Cecily’s tutor, Miss Prism.

At the mention of that name, Lady Bracknell becomes inflamed with anger. She strides towards the vestry, shouting “PRISM, PRISM!!” at the top of her lungs. The others follow her in bewilderment. Miss Prism hears the voice and Lady Bracknell and starts to run, but upon sighting Lady Bracknell, collapses into a dead faint.

When she comes around, Lady Bracknell asks her, “Prism, where is the BABY?” Turns out that Miss Prism worked in Lady Bracknell’s household before as a nanny. One day, she took a baby boy out in a pram but they both disappeared. All that was found was a manuscript in the pram, but no baby, and no Miss Prism. Miss Prism confesses that in a moment of confusion, she must have put the baby in her handbag and her manuscript in the pram. But she never found either again. Jack is listening intently, and asks her where she lost her handbag. She says Victoria Station. Jack bounds upstairs and pulls down the handbag in which he was found as a baby. It’s a match. Jack thinks Miss Prism is his mother, but Miss Prism says no – Lady Bracknell will be able to tell him who his parents are. Turns out that Miss Prism worked for Lady Bracknell’s sister, Algie’s mum… which makes Jack and Algie brothers.

But the question of who Jack is still remains. Lady Bracknell mentions that he was christened after his father, who was a general in the army. Jack grabs his military records from the library and it turns out that his father’s name was Ernest.

Jack looked up his father's name and saw that it was . . . Jack. But he didn't show anyone the book. He just announced that his father's name was Ernest. Lady Bracknell picks up the book and checks the name herself, allowing the audience to see that the name is Jack. But she doesn't reveal this to anyone.

The two couples embrace and all ends well, but Lady Bracknell (in spite of being pleased) chides Ernest for being trivial with so much affection, but Ernest replies, saying, “On the contrary, Aunt Augusta, I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the importance of being earnest.”

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Soundtrack!
Novel
1952
Classic
Colin Firth
Valmont
Rupert Everett
An Ideal Husband