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Writer's aged plea for tolerance endures

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Renowned for his infinitely quotable witticisms, Oscar Wilde, literary star of late-19th-century London society, is in the midst of a resurgence at the end of the 20th. Wilde's career crashed and burned in 1895 when he was sentenced to two years of hard labor for "the crime of sodomy."

The writer who lampooned hypocrisy and advanced the idea of art for art's sake became a pariah after the notorious trial, and his work fell into obscurity.

But nearly a century after his death comes a film biography (Wilde), high-profile stagings of his plays and now a sparkling adaptation of his work An Ideal Husband, directed by Oliver Parker (Othello), who has a few theories about the renewed interest.

"He's always been ahead of his time," Parker explains in Los Angeles, "and because of the position he's taken flying in the face of convention, he's been held as a symbol of free-thinking, independence and individuality. People are beginning to join the dots and realizing that he's a much bigger personality and artist than they thought before."

"I think with the sexual revolution, he gradually became more and more important," adds Rupert Everett, whose comic timing as the dandyish Lord Arthur Goring perfectly encapsulates Wilde's comic sensibilities.

"He is a war hero," the openly gay Everett continues, "and when you're looking at the state of things like homosexuality now, you automatically think about him because, first of all, he invented the term. Until Oscar Wilde framed the term, it was something that was never talked about."

It's not just Wilde, but "An Ideal Husband" that has an eerily appropriate relevance today. The central plot concerns a political scandal that Wilde deftly mixes with sexual roundelays and emotional blackmail.

"The more things change, the more they stay the same," quotes Julianne Moore, whose sly Mrs. Cheveley sets things in motion, "and the timing of this movie couldn't be better because you see that this stuff has always occurred."

A politician of seemingly irreproachable repute has a dirty little secret, and it's not just his career that's threatened, but the reverence felt by his adoring wife. "An Ideal Husband" is an ironic title, explains Parker, because she must come to understand not just her husband's fallibility but her own unrealistic expectations of perfection. It's this emotional side to Wilde that Parker was anxious to express.

"There was huge compassion and enormous heart there that was just hidden behind this sort of glittering facade," he says. "For me, [Oscar Wilde's] essence is something you find in virtually everything he does: a plea for tolerance. It's a challenge to take on the traditional values and discard them in favor of your own."


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