Fans of Oscar Wilde will appreciate the wit and repartee that ripple through Mike Barker’s romantic comedy based upon Wilde’s play Lady Windermere’s Fan.
Originally written by Wilde to be a contemporary social satire about marriage, adultery and the haves and the have-nots in Victorian England, Lady Windermere’s Fan is uprooted by screenwriter Howard Himelstein and modernised to free it from the shackles of Victorian morality. The film also Americanises the three leads: the Windermeres and the good woman of the title.
After so much fiddling, Oscar Wilde’s 1892 social satire Lady Windermere’s Fan barely survives its transplant from English high society to an idle 1930s Mediterranean summer where the wealthy and idle aristocracy gather to gossip and, well, gossip. Yet it is the perfect place to throw the good woman of the film’s title.
We first meet Mrs Erlynne, an infamous husband-poacher played by Helen Hunt, as she scampers pennilessly out of New York after entertaining one too many husbands of the city’s high-flying socialites.
She arrives on the Amalfi Coast and soon collides with Robert Windermere (Mark Umbers) who is in the honeymoon phase with his new wife Meg (Scarlett Johansson). It’s not long before tongues are wagging. Is he or isn’t he having an affair with the notorious professional mistress and what of those cheques Windermere is writing for Mrs Erlynne?
Playboy Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore), madly in love with Meg Windermere, wouldn’t half mind if Windermere was tossing the old dame. Meanwhile, the often-divorced Lord Tuppy (Tom Wilkinson) takes a shine to Mrs Erlynne who has a deeper secret that Meg’s husband is keen to keep under wraps.
Despite all the intrigue and banter, A Good Woman never really hits its stride. Helen Hunt is miscast as the vampiric Mrs Erlynne. The cinematography and costumes render Hunt’s warm friendly features into a hard mask; they certainly don’t transform her into a beautiful but deadly siren capable of captivating men’s hearts.
Scarlett Johansson does a little better, if only for that famous pout, yet still seems out of place.
The film’s saving grace is Wilde’s wit as it rolls off the acerbic tongues of Tuppy and his idle affluent compatriots. Tom Wilkinson brings the right mix of old fool and wise man to Lord Tuppy, who shows that no matter how many times you’ve been married you can always go back for more.