The Importance of Being Earnest – Singing Scene

In The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, the play does not specifically incorporate a song during the “singing scene”, which is just one way in which the 2002 film adaptation starring Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon and Judi Dench differs from the original play. In Wilde’s play, the passage includes the few lines used, but only has this stage direction:

[Enter JACK followed by ALGERNON. They whistle some dreadful popular air from a British Opera.]

Instead of whistling, the men sing a song titled “Come Down”, which essentially asks the women to come down from their physical position (above the men), and metaphorically, to forgive them and to stop being so aloof. The song occurs in two different settings, but both of them incorporate the physical aspect of coming down. In the first setting, the women stand on a balcony, and the men sing from below them. In the second setting, the women sit reading in the second floor hallway, by the stairs. The men move from their position outdoors to the room below the stairs (with the piano in tow). Thus, not only is the song added to the scene, but the scene occurs in two different settings. The four lines that comprise occur during the song scene are spread across these two settings. While the play indicates no break between these lines, the film director, Oliver Parker, interprets this scene differently. The effect is that this scene has far more comic appeal in the film. Instead of just the men approaching the women, whistling, trying, as they might, to look casual, the two Ernest’s follow Cecily and Gwendolen in order to woo them with a song. Because of this, the men become comic characters in this scene.


Gwendolen and Cecily read each other’s diaries in Oliver Parker’s film adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest. Still from the Youtube clip.

The staging and additions in the film scene not only make the men seem more comical, but they also take advantage of the technical capabilities of film. In a stage play, it is difficult or impossible to change settings in the middle of dialogue, but with the portability of the camera, film allows such setting changes without interrupting the flow of the scene. In fact, this particular scene becomes more prolonged. The girls and their aloof friendship lasts much longer in the film than in the play (as shown by an earlier scene where they go horseback riding together, and in this scene, where they are reading the other’s diary), which makes the men seem even more persistent and comical. Parker, as director, takes a short segment of time from the play and expands it in the film in order create comic scenes and situations, as illustrated by the men singing to the girls. Personally, I think that this adaptation is a successful comedy film of the play, and uses funny moments within Wilde’s work in order to expand on the comic nature of the characters and situation.