Wouldn’t Rupert Everett make a smashing James Bond? Jock-shouldered, glamorously craggy, born to wear a tux — he looks as if he was born in a tux — he’s got the whiplash panache that the 007 series lost long ago. In An Ideal Husband, an enjoyable, minor, lustrously shot revamping of Oscar Wilde’s play about the perpetually interlocked manners of love and deception, Everett plays Lord Goring, a wealthy bachelor who cherishes his privileges but loathes the prospect of growing up. ”To love oneself,” he says, ”is the beginning of a lifelong romance!” Cast as Wilde’s (heterosexual) stand-in, Everett gets all the good lines, but he’s daring enough to deliver them gently, with a knowing touch of rue.
The brash Lord Goring says out loud what no one else will: that society coasts on ripples of vanity and coercion. His every remark is a needling indictment of the lies around him, and yet, as the movie reveals, the world isn’t as simple as he makes it out to be. The truth exists within those lies. Jeremy Northam, who has finally come alive on screen by admitting that he’s a high-toned English thespian (in movies like The Net and Mimic, he seemed to disappear behind his modern facade), plays Goring’s best friend, Sir Robert, a rising politician who is blackmailed by the treacherous Mrs. Cheveley (Julianne Moore). She threatens to expose a scandalous secret from his past, and though the revelation temporarily dampens the affections of Sir Robert’s wife (Cate Blanchett), it’s really the wife’s starry-eyed purity that needs dousing. An Ideal Husband has a slightly rigid, clockwork structure. We wait for the various couples to pair off, and as they do, there’s such a tidy sense of closure that the movie just seems to get smaller. All that lingers is what can’t be paired off: Rupert Everett’s highly civilized voice of anarchy. B