The untold story of Oscar Wilde's last days, who observed his own failure with ironic distance and viewed the difficulties that beset his life with detachment and humour.
Review by Louise Keller: In the role of his career and his directing debut, Rupert Everett shines brightly as the troubled literary genius, Oscar Wilde during his final years. Using Wilde's story, The Happy Prince as an allegory for this emotionally dark chapter of his life after imprisonment and exile, there's a sweeping air of melancholy about the film as it echoes themes of love, sacrifice, wealth and poverty. Cinematic and visually striking with stunning European settings, the film entices us into Wilde's world and the key relationships that form an emotional and intellectual roadmap. I would have liked a little more reference to Wilde's literary prowess but it's a great vehicle for Everett and a journey that anyone interested in Oscar Wilde will savour.
In the screenplay which he also penned, Everett plays with time, flitting back and forth from Wilde's days of glory as the most famous man in London in 1895, to heart-rending times when despair and circumstance are ugly companions. We clearly see the hypocrisy of a society that turns a blind eye to sexual conduct in the shadows but condones what is seen in broad daylight. In the film this refers to Wilde's passionate and controversial relationship with Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas, as played by Colin Morgan), which resumes after Wilde's two-year incarceration. But has anything changed in modern society?
From his earlier work in An Ideal Husband (1999) and The Importance of Being Earnest (2002), Everett's affinity to Wilde is clear, and here with the help of body padding and jowl-enhancing prosthetics, the actor is almost unrecognizable. It is a pedigree cast and Emily Watson as Wilde's estranged wife Constance provides the film's most moving moments ('I'm sure if I saw him once, I would forgive everything'). Watch for the scene when a telegram arrives with news of Constance. A chill sweeps through the room and devastation is painted on Wilde's face. His eyes are coloured by emptiness.
Colin Firth plays Wilde's mustachioed friend Reggie and Edwin Thomas is the devoted Robbie, who could never be enough for him. If I have a quibble it is the casting of Morgan as Bosie, who lacks the easy charm and charisma so beautifully projected by Jude Law in Wilde (1997). It was easy to fall in love with Law, so handsome in the Adonis mould, making it easy to believe he was irresistible to Wilde and would risk so much for him.
If you are not familiar with Wilde's story, The Happy Prince, listen to Stephen Fry's 21 minute reading of the narrative on YouTube: simple but potent sentiments poignantly portrayed. It is about a golden statue with sapphire eyes and a ruby in his sword, who had been never been exposed to the harshness of the outside world. He asks a swallow to denude him of his wealth and beauty to help others. A parable for love, dear boy?