Oscar Wilde billed his 1895 drama The Importance of Being Earnest a "Trivial Comedy for Serious People." And so it is with its generous supply of snappy one-liners and its wry observations on the hypocrisies of the English social order. Oliver Parker's (An Ideal Husband) witty screen adaptation of this comedy of manners is well-cast and brimming over with the complications that arise when two young men begin playing with the truth.
Algy (Rupert Everett) is a dandy who enjoys his life of leisure and disdains the proprieties of high society. His best friend Jack (Colin Firth) lives on a manor in the country. This fellow has invented a brother named Earnest to give himself an excuse to go to London and visit Gwendolyn (Frances O'Connor), the bright-eyed and strong-willed daughter of Lady Bracknell (Judi Dench), Algy's aunt. Convinced that Earnest is not good enough for her daughter, this pillar of repute orders him to lay out his class pedigree. Earnest is unable to do so since he was found as an infant in a handbag in a railroad station.
Meanwhile, Algy decides to have some fun on his own by making an unannounced visit to Jack's estate. He goes gaga for his friend's beautiful young ward Cecily (Reese Witherspoon). She's convinced that Algy is Earnest. All of this duplicity gathers into a snowball of confusion when Jack returns to his estate followed shortly by Gwendolyn and her officious mother. The one person who holds the key to sorting out all the deceptions is Miss Prism (Anna Massay), Cecily's tutor.
At one point Jack says to Algy: "When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people." Either way, The Importance of Being Earnest will amuse you.