Everett becomes a Wilde card to seal the importance of Ealing's comeback

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The Independent Culture

The immortal exclamation: "A handbag!" heard in theatres across the land for the past hundred years is soon to be heard in Hollywood.

The immortal exclamation: "A handbag!" heard in theatres across the land for the past hundred years is soon to be heard in Hollywood.

Rupert Everett and Dame Judi Dench are lining up to star in a new film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's classic comedy The Importance of Being Earnest, with Miramax Films expected to take worldwide rights.

The film, produced by the independent production company Fragile Films, under the revived "Ealing Studios" banner, will be directed by Oliver Parker, who also wrote the screenplay. Everett and Parker previously collaborated on An Ideal Husband, another Wilde drama released by Miramax.

The Importance of Being Earnest, perhaps Wilde's best- known play, is a frothy comedy of mistaken identity set in English high society in the 1890s.

According to Variety, the film and theatre trade magazine, Everett is to play Algernon, one of the two male leads, while Dame Judi is in talks to play the redoubtable Lady Bracknell, one of the great cameo roles in English drama.

In the previous cinematic version, filmed in 1952 by Rank, the role of Lady Bracknell was made immortal by Dame Edith Evans. The film also starred Sir Michael Redgrave and Joan Greenwood.

It is likely to be the first film made by Ealing Studios since Fragile took over the west London studios earlier this year. Fragile has pledged to revive the Ealing comedy brand, which was established in the Forties and Fifties by the producer Michael Balcon.

The film, with a $15m budget, will begin shooting in the spring. Fragile Films declined to reveal further details yesterday.

The play has a poignant history in Wilde's life. It was first performed on Valentine's Day on 1895. While the play was in rehearsal, Wilde was in the middle of his troubled relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, and was being pursued by Douglas's father, the Marquis of Queensbury.

Queensbury planned to disrupt the opening nightbut he was stopped by a policeman. Two weeks later, Queensbury left a calling card in Wilde's mailbox at the Albemarle Club: "To Oscar Wilde, posing as a Sodomite (sic)."

Wilde decided to take legal action and sued Queensbury for libel. He lost the case, was arrested for sodomy, tried, convicted and sentenced to two years' hard labour.

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