›› Prisoner C33 ‹‹

a teleplay directed by Trevor Nunn.

2022 | 70 mins | UK.

a harrowing and all the more realistic account of Oscar Wilde's life behind bars.

Dave says:

There has been numerous works of the life and times of the noted Irish poet, playwright and gay icon Oscar Wilde, including Stephen Fry's moving portrayal of Wilde, yet few productions have focused entirely on his imprisonment in the appalling conditions of Reading Gaol, having been found guilty of acts of gross indecency by way of his relationship with another man. This dark, grim, yet equally powerful drama by renowned British theatre director Trevor Nunn therefore breaks new ground in shining the spotlight on a period of Wilde's life that all too many works opt to hastily pass over, given what we see is far from light entertainment, even if writer Stuart Paterson has gone out of his way to inject the narrative with much of the wit and satirical humour of Wilde at the height of his critical acclaim.

Set in March 1896 at Reading Gaol ten months into his two year sentence, this is, in effect, a two-man play that thanks to the wonders of technology allows Toby Stephens' in an immensely moving performance, to portray both roles. From that of an older Wilde at the rock bottom of life, only to be reminded of his flamboyant former self, namely the darling of London society all but a few months ago, by way of the dream-like company of the man he once was; suitably attired in a red velvet jacket, his long hair styled to perfection and with a gentleman's walking cane more of a stage prop, than of any use within the confines of "this tomb for those who are not yet dead."

As words flow back and forth between the two in the form of a conversation with oneself, the incarcerated Wilde reflects on his undying love for his wife Constance and his two sons now forever tainted by his fall from grace, to that of the double-edged sword of his love / hatred for Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas. It's a narrative that not surprising speaks of Uranian love and of Wilde's attraction to a younger convict serving his time, being the sole light in his days of endless darkness.

Rich in the thoughts of a man now shunned and imprisoned by society, Stephens' achingly conveys Wilde's innermost feelings courtesy of a series of poignant scenes separately solely by way of a piercing high-pitched noise, as Wilde repeatedly cries out "if it was not for my ear," a reference to the perforated eardrum that would contribute to his death. Thankfully and amongst all of the darkness, there's some light, given "it would truly be a crime if this famous wit were not allowed a glimmer of comedy in his musings." Proclaiming to see the beauty in both men and in women, Wilde goes on to question if that makes him a superior man, adding that if his sexuality is superior, then should he not expect an honour from the Queen? "Well certainly a tax rebate, at the very least" he jokes.

Only and for all of the many positives of this work, this wonderfully-crafted play is nonetheless a hard watch; that of a harrowing and thereby all the more realistic account of Oscar Wilde's life behind bars; having been refused access to a toilet, denied water to wash himself with and initially without a pen, paper or book in sight, as likened here to leaving Michelangelo without chisel and stone. Stephens' is outstanding in both roles; vividly portraying the despair of a man too ashamed to be known by anything other than his prison number, to that of a man when reminded of "the great and exceptional man" he once was, is finally able to say his full name with pride.

Released from prison in May 1897, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde died a penniless vagabond in Paris on the 30th November, 1900, aged 46, with the closing frames of this highly creative play showcasing Wilde bathed in the heavenly rays of an early morning sunrise, being a narrative nod to his deathbed conditional baptism into the Catholic Church. An abridged version of De Profundis (published posthumously in 1905) and The Ballad of Reading Gaol marked the final works of 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.

"I have come to believe that prayer must never be answered,
for if it does, it ceases to be prayer and becomes correspondence." / Prisoner C33.
›› screened as part of BBC Four's Sunday Night Performance slot:
›› Sunday, 1st May, 2022: 9:00pm - 10:10pm.
›› posted: Sunday, 8th May, 2022.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - none | Overall - file under ... 4 stars

›› copyright © 2022 David Hall - www.gaycelluloid.com ‹‹
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