The Importance of Being Earnest

Pipeline - Movies in production

THE PITCH: Brit wit-com of yesteryear goes Wilde in the country, with a posh-frocked multinational ensemble. LOCATION: West Wycombe Park, Bucks. TALENT: Oliver Parker (director), Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Frances O'Connor, Dame Judi Dench.

The Importance of Being EarnestStep through an ivyclad archway into an immaculate rococo landscape garden, and it's like travelling back 100 years. Indeed, given the clinical attention to detail and the ornate grandeur of the Dashwood family mansion in Buckinghamshire, the only betrayal that this is not, in fact, the upper-class opulence of the late 19th century is a pair of shiny, white trainers just south of Rupert Everett's dapper slacks. (Although, had Nike been in production at the time, it's the sort of thing Algernon Moncrieff may well have gone for.)

Mr. Everett is, however, unavailable for comment on matters of filming, comfy footwear or any other. So, too, Mr. Firth (Jack Worthing) - both concentrating hard on their lines. And with good reason. For this is An Ideal Husband director Oliver Parker returning to Oscar Wilde, namely The Importance Of Being Earnest, which concerns the wooing of Gwendolen Fairfax (O'Connor) and Cecily Cardew (Witherspoon) by Jack and Algy. "It's been really intimidating walking onto a set with a load of English people and having to do English dialogue," says Witherspoon of the Wilde witticisms. "I think the older you get, the harder it is to hear a different language, which is what it's like when you start studying different sounds." After Mansfield Park, Frances O'Connor had less trouble plumming over antipodean tones, and regarded the Italianate fašades and lavish adornment favoured by Sir Francis Dashwood (founder of misbehaving aristo society, The Hellfire Club) as inspiring. "It makes it easier, I think. It's all around you, and you just can't help but soak it up."

The Importance of Being EarnestOne person who won't worry about the accent is Dame Judi Dench, for whom Miramax juggled the shooting schedules of The Shipping News, Iris and Earnest to allow her to grace all three. "It's exquisite," says Dame Dench of her current shooting experience. "Like The Marriage Of Figaro and Twelfth Night: absolutely perfect."

And yet, despite all the frockery, fine period setting and established thesps, this promises to have a distinctly modern edge. "The words and attitudes feel very contemporary," says Witherspoon. "I thought it was really well adapted and it just felt so different to Legally Blonde," laughs the model of understatement. "So here I am, a proper English lady." Darren Bignell