a moving portrayal of the fall from grace of Oscar Wilde
Adapted by Julian Mitchell from the biography by Richard Ellmann, this assured drama is in essence a moving portrayal of the fall from grace of Oscar Wilde and inparticular his
turbulent relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas and ill-advised legal action against Douglas' father, the Marquess of Queensberry. It would come to mark a tragedy in three acts:-
Act 1: The case against the Marquess of Queensberry 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" in a case like this. Upon his release from prison in 1897, Wilde was but a shadow of his former self, effectively broken both financially and spiritually. Writing infrequently, his only major work published thereafter was The Ballad of Reading Gaol, namely his poetic cry of prison hell. He died virtually penniless in Paris on the 30th November, 1900.
In short, to review a film of this nature is to reflect upon the life of Oscar Wilde; one filled with great highs that give contrast to infamous lows and inparticular how his imprisonment deprived him of the three things he held most dearly: his wife, his children and his freedom to write. Yet 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 that of 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.
Such aside, this is a star laden work. Only whilst Zoë Wanamaker as Ada 'Sphinx' Leverson, Michael Sheen as Robbie Ross and Jennifer Ehle and Vanessa Redgrave as respectively Constance and Lady Wilde provide solid support throughout, the star turns however lie with Tom Wilkinson and Jude Law and their brutally realistic portrayals of
a father and son at opposite ends of the scale of the acceptance of human sexuality. And yet this remains a Stephen Fry show, who hereby portrays 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.
The result is a beautifully told work that in detailing the trial of one accused of 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. Above all else, this film pays tribute to a poetic genius who was broken and impoverished by a society that courted his wit, but not the sexual orientation such was born out of. Simply captivating.
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde | 1854 - 1900 | What lies before is my past.
available on DVD as part of the Universal catalogue
starring: Stephen Fry, Jude Law, Vanessa Redgrave, Jennifer Ehle, Gemma Jones, Judy Parfitt,
Michael Sheen, Zoë Wanamaker, Tom Wilkinson, Ioan Gruffudd