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Review: Oscar Wilde biopic The Happy Prince is labour of love

PUBLISHED: 08:54 22 June 2018 | UPDATED: 08:59 22 June 2018

Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde in The Happy Prince. Photo: Lionsgate Films

Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde in The Happy Prince. Photo: Lionsgate Films

Archant

Taking its title from his short story, this elegiac account of the final years of Oscar Wilde following his incarceration living in exile in France and Italy is a passion project for director, writer and lead actor Rupert Everett.

Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde in The Happy Prince. Photo: Lionsgate FilmsRupert Everett as Oscar Wilde in The Happy Prince. Photo: Lionsgate Films

The Happy Prince (15)

****

Dying in the gutter but always surrounded by stars, The Martyrdom of Oscar Wilde is an oft-told tale. The notion of it being told by Rupert Everett — directing, writing and starring — has a kind of thudding predictability, but this version isn’t exactly what you expect, and has something more to offer than more just kneeling at the altar.

Everett chooses to follow him through his post-Reading Gaol exile in France and Italy; living it up when he has money, slumming it when he doesn’t, and drowning in absinthe whether he does or doesn’t.

Colin Firth as Reggie Turner, Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde and Edwin Thomas as Robbie Ross in The Happy Prince. Photo: Lionsgate FilmsColin Firth as Reggie Turner, Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde and Edwin Thomas as Robbie Ross in The Happy Prince. Photo: Lionsgate Films

All the squalor and the splendour is beautifully captured by John Conroy’s camera. You expect a costume drama to look good but Conroy really excels giving dark passion to murky interiors and doing to full justice to the wallpaper that Wilde is in a duel to the death with.

To play the broken, mid-40s Wilde, Everett has had a make-up job similar to that used to create the Toblerone phase, post-breakdown Alan Partridge.

This Wilde looks like a dandy Les Pattison. For a man who often lectured the rest of humanity on the need for beauty and love at all cost, at times he cuts a rather vulgar figure, none more so then when conducting a sing-song in a Parisian drinking den overseen by Betty Blue herself Beatrice Dalle.

His ex-wife Constance (Emily Watson) grants him a small allowance on the understanding that he will sever all ties to Lord Alfred Douglas aka Bosie (Colin Morgan).

Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde in The Happy Prince. Photo: Lionsgate FilmsRupert Everett as Oscar Wilde in The Happy Prince. Photo: Lionsgate Films

Good friends Reggie Turner (Colin Firth) and Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas) try in vain to keep their pal out of the gutter.

At one point Wilde says of Bosie, the lover at the root of his downfall, “Your vanity is breathtaking,” but he is a man with a cavalier attitude to friendship and family, oblivious to who he might be offending or hurting through his actions.

Throughout he is visually associated with statues of saints or the figure of Jesus on the cross. The script is structured around a telling in instalments of his children’s tale, The Happy Prince, a self-serving sentimentalisation of his situation: a precious heart who selflessly sacrifices all his advantages to help those around him. He has supporters and friends but seems set on a path of destruction that will consecrate his belief in beauty and love above all things. Rather than being the innocent victim of a hypocritical establishment, he meets his martyrdom halfway.

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