I always thought of Oscar Wilde as director proof – meaning whoever adapted it, as much of a botch job as they did, his wit would survive and it would still be funny. I was wrong. Oh God, how was I wrong. Alexander Korda proved it with his flat 1947 adaptation of “An Ideal Husband”.
This is one of Wilde’s best works, it has a plot, and tension and can be incredibly funny. Lord Goring is one of his best superficial bachelors. If in doubt, look at the 1999 film with Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett. It’s great fun. It has the drama, and the comedy, and the tension and it works (at least to me). And yes, they have changed slightly the plot to make Mrs Cheveley a more romantic character.
But back to 1947. There are hardly any redeeming features in this – the acting is emotionless and the actors looked bored (I guess they were going for aloof); Diana Wynyard and Hugh Williams are plain uninteresting, and probably too old, as Lord and Lady Chiltern; the matte paintings of Hyde Park may (and I repeat, may) have been acceptable in a black and white film, they’re just plain ridiculous in colour; Cecil Beaton’s costumes look a tad too lavish. But even the rest of the cast, usually competent or good actors, is flat – this includes Paulette Goddard, C. Aubrey Smith and Constance Collier (see Hitchcock’s “Rope” where she is the best thing by far). Glynis Johnson is about the only good thing as a lovely, charming, and very Wildean Mabel. But worst of all, it just isn’t funny!