This is going to be a collection of posts similar to how my ‘Playlist Friday’ posts are, although there will not be a new one every week. I’ll post them sporadically.
Please be advised that this comparison will contain spoilers for both the play and the movie, so please continue reading at your own risk. A review of the play version of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is also posted now.
I’m well aware that ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is actually a play, not a book, but it is still an adaptation nonetheless. The play was first copyrighted in 1895, so almost 125 years ago. The film adaptation that I watched was released in 2002.
I saw this movie before I read the play. My senior year of high school, my teacher made us watch the movie right at the end of the year, most likely because our AP test was over and she just wanted to fill the time. The first time I watched it, I didn’t analyze it that much because there wasn’t a grade relying on it and I didn’t have the actual play to compare it to.
However, now in my Reading and Literature class, we were required to read the play and then compare it to the movie, so I thought that I would share a condensed version of my findings with all of you.
The movie expands upon the play in a way that only film can do, as a play on stage doesn’t have as many creative options available as to different locations and even some movement. The play included some stage directions, but not too many. Obviously it was easier to visualize the story on screen since not a lot of detail is able to be provided by short stage directions.
I actually have almost four pages of notes that I wrote down about all of the differences between the play and the movie, but I know that you as a reader have absolutely no interest in pretending to read through all of that. Instead, I’ll just walk you through a few of the changes that happen within the first few scenes of the movie.
The movie starts off with an entirely new scene that is not in the play, in which Algernon Montcrieff is being chased by two men whose faces are being hidden from the camera. Throughout the story, it is revealed that they are most likely debt collectors. Any chase scenes that were put throughout the movie were completely new and added, as that storyline does not appear in the play itself.
A majority of the dialogue makes the transition from page to screen, although some lines are skipped over, some are added and sometimes scenes and dialogues have been spliced and rearranged. For example, in one of the first scenes of the movie where Algy (Algernon) is playing piano and talking to his butler Lane, Algy complains about all of the bills that he has, and doesn’t talk to Lane about his (Lane’s) married life like he does in the play version. In the play, Act I takes places all in Algy’s house, whereas in the movie, a few new scenes and locations are added. In the movie, we first meet Ernest/Jack when he meets up with Algy at a bar. They also talk while strolling around outside, and then finally the next day they are both in Algy’s house. Other scenes are added as well, such as when Lady Bracknell (Algy’s Aunt Augusta) tells Ernest that he must meet with her at her house the following day to have a conversation that, in the play, had taken place right then and there. There are also some scenes from Act II of the play with Cecily and Miss Prism that are interjected within the scenes from Act I in the film, and the film has the opportunity to provide flashbacks from when Ernest was a baby that the on stage play would not easily be able to.
One of the best parts about this adaptation is that the main complaints that most readers have with book to movie adaptations is not applicable. When most works get adapted to the screen, there is the issue of the main character’s inner dialogue suddenly being gone, as filmmakers have to show you their thoughts instead of letting you be a fly on the wall inside their brain like reading the book (usually) allows you to do. Since this movie is adapted from a play that only includes sparse stage directions and no inner dialogue, I feel that it transitioned over better than most adaptations.
According to my English teacher, the playwright Oscar Wilde was very concerned with aestheticism, which is the expressive element of “art for art’s sake.” The sets and outfits in the film were very extravagant and full of vibrant color, and I believe that Wilde would have been proud.