›› Wilde ‹‹

a film by Brian Gilbert.

1997 | 112 mins | UK.

a moving portrayal of the fall from grace of Oscar Wilde.

Dave says:

Adapted by Julian Mitchell from the biography by Richard Ellmann, this beautifully crafted drama is in essence a moving portrayal of the fall from grace of Oscar Wilde and in particular his turbulent relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas and therein his ill-advised legal action against Douglas' father, the Marquess of Queensberry. It would come to mark a tragedy in three acts:-

Act 1: Accused of having committed the crime of sodomy and encouraged by Lord Douglas, but against the advice of his friends, Wilde initiated a private prosecution against the Marquess of Queensberry for libel, a case that would in effect put Wilde on trial, as evidence of his sexual proclivity came to light. As rent boy after rent boy were named as potential witnesses, Wilde's counsel withdrew their prosecution for libel, only for Wilde to be arrested for acts of gross indecency thereafter.

Act 2: Now as defendant, it was during this trial that Wilde would come to deliver his noted "the love that dare not speak its name" speech, one so eloquent that it gave cause to a hung jury.

Act 3: A new trial and a new jury, who whilst presented with largely the same evidence as before, would this time deliver a guilty verdict. Scorned by those who had once rushed to see his plays, Wilde would be sentenced to two years' hard labour, a duration that the judge would cite as being "totally inadequate" for a case such as this - "the worst case I have ever tried." Upon his release from prison in May 1897, Wilde was but a shadow of his former self, effectively broken both financially and spiritually. Writing infrequently, his only major works published thereafter were The Ballad of Reading Gaol and an abridged version of De Profundis as published posthumously in 1905; namely his 50,000-word letter to Douglas as written between January and March 1897 in the appalling conditions of Reading Gaol.

In short, to review a film of this nature is to reflect upon the life of Oscar Wilde; one filled with great highs that saw him become the darling of London society, only to be strikingly juxtaposed with infamous lows and in particular how his imprisonment deprived him of the three things he held most dear: his wife Constance, his two sons and for months on end, his freedom to write. What is equally apparent, is the deep affection that Robert 'Robbie' Ross held for Wilde and how he would remain a true friend throughout. Yet the friendship central to his downfall was his troubled relationship with Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas. To that end, this work examines Wilde's seemingly blind devotion to a man who not only displayed overt contempt for him, but in the end would come to denounce Wilde as "the greatest force of evil" in the notorious Pemberton Billing case of 1918.

Yet the success of the works of Oscar Wilde lay in his ability to inject his plays with a series of witty one-liners, dialogue that would become quotes in their own right. Somewhat fitting then that in showcasing such memorable lines, such are delivered by a star laden cast. Yet whilst Zoë Wanamaker as Ada 'Sphinx' Leverson, Michael Sheen as Robbie Ross and Jennifer Ehle and Vanessa Redgrave respectively as Constance and Lady Wilde provide solid support throughout, the star turn lies with Tom Wilkinson and by contrast Jude Law in their brutally realistic portrayals of a father and son at opposite ends of the scale of sexual acceptance. Stephen Fry is however outstanding throughout, hereby portraying what for many is that of his nineteenth century alter ego. He plays the part with great style and flourish, relishing every line of Wilde's prose as much as the man himself, his character the polar opposite of Law's portrait of Bosie Douglas, having the arrogance and vanity of a spoiled young aristocrat who would come to distract Wilde from his true vocation and whom Wilde would never forgive for his cutting remark: "when you're not on your pedestal, you're not interesting."

Above all else, this engrossing work in poignantly detailing the trial of Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde for acts of gross indecency, literally charts the trial of homosexuality itself. The verdict was devastating and one that kept those of Wilde inclinations firmly in the closet for many a decade to come. Wilde would come to take full responsibility for his undoing, citing in De Profundis that "I am here for having tried to put your father in prison," along the way forgiving Douglas; albeit for his own sake, as much as Douglas's. Wilde died virtually penniless in Paris on the 30th November, 1900, aged 46; a lamentable closing chapter to an otherwise distinguished career that is vividly depicted in Rupert Everett's compelling feature The Happy Prince.

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
from the play Lady Windemere's Fan by Oscar Wilde.
›› available as part of the UNIVERSAL PICTURES catalogue: 4th October, 1999 / UK.
›› revised: Tuesday, 10th May, 2022.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - bare-arsed cheek | Overall - file under ... 4 stars

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