June 28, 1999 12:00 PM

Cate Blanchett, Jeremy Northam, Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore, Minnie Driver, John Wood

Oscar Wilde wrote An Ideal Husband in 1895, but its plot—about the severe strains put on the marriage of an ambitious political couple after the wife learns that her husband committed a serious ethical breach in his past—could be lifted straight out of last year’s newspapers. Quicker than you can say Hillary and Bill, Wilde’s Lady Gertrude (Blanchett) and Sir Robert (Northam) are tiptoeing around each other and the large smelly secret (his sale of government information for profit), the revelation of which could easily be his undoing.

This comedy of manners is one of Wilde’s better plays and certainly, today, his most relevant. Sleekly directed and adapted by Oliver Parker (1995’s Othello), Husband is to be savored for its epigrammatic wit (“To love one’s self is the beginning of a lifelong romance”), the crisp, stylish acting of its talented cast and the ironic parallels between life in the corridors of power yesterday and today. Scenes between Everett, a rapier-tongued bon vivant, and Moore, a widow with blackmail on her mind, are especially bracing. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Take a walk on the Wilde side

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