Playing fast and loose with 'Lady Windermere's Fan'

Oscar Wilde is having a bit of a renaissance. Last week, a revival of his best-known play, "The Importance of Being Earnest," opened at the Ahmanson. On Friday, "A Good Woman," an adaptation of Wilde's first produced play, "Lady Windermere's Fan," hits the big screen.

The comedy of manners was the toast of London town in 1892. The following year, "Fan" traveled to America, where it has been staged several times on Broadway -- the last revival was in 1946.

Filled with misunderstandings and deceptions, the play revolves around a young woman, Lady Windermere, who believes her husband of two years is having an affair with a much older woman who, in fact, turns out to be her mother.

Wilde stated in his letters that he hoped the play would not be scrutinized as a "mere question of pantomime and clowning" but as a psychological study.

"Lady Windermere's Fan" has been adapted for film before, most notably by Ernst Lubitsch in 1925 and again by Otto Preminger in 1949 as "The Fan."

Its latest incarnation as "A Good Woman," which stars Helen Hunt, Scarlett Johansson and Tom Wilkinson, plays fast and loose with the original work. The setting has been moved from Victorian England to the picturesque Amalfi coast of Italy in the early 1930s. Several of the characters are now American.

Hunt plays Stella Erlynne, a fortune huntress who gave up a baby daughter 20 years earlier. Kicked out of New York by the wives of the wealthy men she seduced, Stella travels to Amalfi, where she immediately sets her sights on Robert Windermere (Mark Umbers), a rich young man who is married to the naive, sweet Meg (Johansson).

After Meg fears Robert and Stella are having an affair, she finds solace in the company of the charming womanizer Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore).

Wilkinson plays Tuppy, a twice married and divorced Englishman who falls madly in love with Stella.

Adapted by Howard Himelstein and directed by Mike Barker ("Best Laid Plans"), "A Good Woman" has taken its time finding its way stateside. Filmed in the fall of 2003, it premiered at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival and opened last year in several European countries.

-- Susan King

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