Dir: Mike Barker. UK-It.2004. 93mins
A light souffle of a film, AGood Woman takes a decent stab at transferring Oscar Wilde's enduring play LadyWindermere's Fan from Victorian England to 1930s Italy. The crisp wit andsly social satire are a little lost in translation and the stellar cast are notalways at ease with the material which means that universal critical support isunlikely.
But the combination ofgorgeous sun-kissed scenery, lavish interiors and fabulous frocks should stillbe enough to entice the same upscale audiences who embraced recent Wildeadaptations like An Ideal Husband (1998) and The Importance Of BeingEarnest (2001) as well as similar wallows in 1930s finery like Tea WithMussolini (1998) and Up At The Villa (1999).
First performed in 1892,Wilde's play was filmed in the silent era and also became the basis of the 1949Otto Preminger production The Fan with Jeanne Crain and MadeleineCarroll.
Here, the story begins inthe New York of 1930 when notorious jezebel Mrs Stella Erlynne (Hunt) isquietly run out of town by the city's social elite. She decides to try her luckon the Amalfi coast and already has her sights on Robert Windermere (Umbers)and his beautiful young wife Meg (Johansson). Tongues wag when the divorcee isseen in Robert's company and soon everyone assumes that he is having an affair.
Sensing an opportunity,Lord Darlington (Moore) starts to woo the vulnerable, unsuspecting Meg. Theonly one willing to give Stella the benefit of the doubt is jovial millionaireTuppy (Wilkinson) who is even prepared to defy the gossip-mongers and ask forher hand in marriage.
Appearances can bedeceptive of course and Stella's involvement with the Windermeres ultimatelyproves to be far more altruistic than anyone might have imagined.
It's all very neat and tidybut that may be its failing as well. Director Mike Barker is perhaps a littletoo keen to keep the film's momentum going and doesn't find the time to let thematerial breathe. A bon mot is never far from anyone's lips but even the famousWildean wit seems a little strained and laboured under these circumstances.Some very funny lines endure but there's a certain perfunctory weariness to theirdelivery.
A wan Helen Hunt brings asmart, steely edge to her portrayal of the gold-digging Stella and ScarlettJohanssen is suitably wide-eyed and guileless as Meg but neither seems to quiteconnect with the deeper emotions concealed beneath the bantering dialogue andplot mechanics.
Tom Wilkinson effortlesslysteals the acting honours making the honest, good-humoured Tuppy a figure ofsheer delight.
Prod cos: Meltemi Entertainment, Alan Greenspan Productions,Lighthouse Entertainment, Buskin Film SRL, Kanzaman
Int'l sales: Beyond Films
Exec prods: John Evangelides,Mikael Borglund, Hilary Davis, Jimmy De Brabant, Michael Dounaev, Liam Badger,Duncan Hopper, Rupert Preston
Prods: Alan Greenspan, JonathanEnglish, Steven Siebert, Howard Himelstein
Scr: Howard Himmelstein based onthe play Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde
Cine: Ben Seresin
Prod des: Ben Scott
Ed: Neil Farrell
Music: Richard G Mitchell
Main cast: Helen Hunt, ScarletJohansson, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Mark Umbers, Milena Vukotic