Director: Rupert Everett
Starring: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Emily Watson
Running time: 105 mins
No-one has dared to fully tackle the haunting and tragic end of Oscar Wilde before now. But then maybe we were waiting for Rupert Everett, who has written, directed and starred in this biopic of the famous and ill-fated writer. Focusing on the last three years of Wilde's life - the period of exile in Paris - The Happy Prince takes on a heavy tale, which given the current social climate, comes at just the right moment.
Under the Turing Law (named after scientist and code-breaker Alan Turing) Oscar Wilde was only given a posthumous pardon for the conviction of gross indecency (shorthand for homosexual relations) in 2017. It seems unbelievable today that a beloved man who was the toast of London's high society could have been crushed so thoroughly and effectively by the historical homophobia that was rife in Wilde's time, to the extent that both his career and life were ruined. Wilde is famous for his novels, plays and cutting wit, but it is the collection of short stories that take the focus in this portrait of his end days, particularly that of the story which gives the film its title, The Happy Prince, who gives away all he has for love.
Wilde is never made out to be a saint of any kind - the narcissistic and selfish elements of his character contribute heavily to his downfall
The film is a series of flashbacks to Wilde's past, from his heady success on the stage, the break-up of his family and the agony of leaving behind a wife and two sons whom he adored, in order to chase the love he craved from the notorious Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas (Colin Morgan). After his time in prison, Wilde takes refuge in the apparent safety of Europe, with the support of friends Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas) and Reggie Turner (Colin Firth), although even far away from England, the "natural habitat of the hypocrite", he is in danger from being recognised and threatened by his fellow countrymen for who he is. When Bosie returns to his life against the advice and wishes of all his friends and his wife, Wilde's fate is sealed as he falls into a downward spiral of drugs, debt and debauchery.
Everett's treatment of such a well-known and public figure is both sensitive and shrewd in tackling the subject matter. Wilde is never made out to be a saint of any kind - the narcissistic and selfish elements of his character contribute heavily to his downfall. But Wilde is not a two-dimensional person from a history book. Having played Wilde himself in The Judas Kiss (directed by David Hare), Everett has an emotional connection and investment that allows us to see past the shallow bravado and insecurities, and reach into the heart of a person who was tested beyond his means. This is a man of charm and substance, who shows how he can still command a room, even in a starving and drug-addled state. Everett pulls no punches, and while there may be some romanticised aspects, there is hard hitting truth here as well.
Did you know? Rupert Everett and Colin Firth previously acted together in a big screen adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest (2002)
The Happy Prince is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 5 July