Monday, 1 September 2014

Lady Windermere’s Fan - Tony Smith - 1985

Though it has never been as popular as comedy classic The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere’s Fan was nevertheless Wilde’s first popular success, sparkling with the famously witty lines for which his work has become so well known, and this stagey but efficient TV adaptation should serve to bring it to a wider audience. Shot on nice but unimaginative sets under flat bright studio lighting the film has little to offer visually but this simply serves to force the focus onto the characters and dialogue and happily they largely stand up to the scrutiny. Interestingly the play is at its most entertaining when it takes a few moments to observe society in full swing and director Tony Smith is smart enough not to try anything clever but simply lets his camera move through the crowds and pick up select pieces of conversation as if by chance. The oafish men play their snobby banter very well, ensuring that the occasional sexism comes across as silly rather than sour, but the biggest delight is Sara Kestelman as the snobby Duchess of Berwick who breezes her through every contradictory conversation with a benevolent smile – the most self-assured of Wilde’s many hypocrites. The drama, centred on the fear of the titular Lady Windermere that her husband is having an affair with an older woman, is more problematic, coming across on the page as melodramatic and unbelievable with Lady Windermere’s naively puritanical morality leaving her difficult for a modern audience to empathise with. On screen though the drama comes across as a little staid but otherwise better with Helena Little bringing a sweetness to Lady Windermere that ensures that the character is always likeable and often sympathetic when her only options seem to be Tim Woodward’s stolid Lord Windermere and Kenneth Cranham’s sardonic Lord Darlington. The hidden gem though is Stephanie Turner as Mrs Erlynne, first appearing to be simply a charming but mischievous troublemaker but then slowly pealing back the layers, making the character’s unexpected discovery of a heart as moving to herself as it is to the audience. This may not be the most exciting or the funniest Wilde adaptation to grace the small screen but as a competent adaptation of a lesser known play this can’t really go wrong.