›› The Happy Prince ‹‹

a film by Rupert Everett.

2018 | 105 mins | UK.

a compelling insight into the last years of Oscar Wilde.

Dave says:

This most personal of projects from writer, director and star of the show Rupert Everett divided fans and critics alike when released in 2018 and in many ways, it's easy to understand why. For here Everett and in a stunning directorial debut bravely went where few, if any biopics, have gone before; namely showcasing the lamentable closing chapter in the life of noted Irish poet, playwright and gay icon Oscar Wilde and it's all the more a moving testament to the poetic genius, for it.

Beginning with Wilde (Everett) telling his beloved sons his noted children's story of the title, such scenes of merriment are soon to be juxtaposed by the sight of a poverty-stricken Wilde winding his way back to his shabby lodgings at the Hôtel d'Alsace, Paris, his head lowered in fear of anyone recognizing the man he once was, only for a chance encounter with theatre lovie Lydia Arbuthnott (Anna Chancellor) to remind him of the days when he was the darling of London society.

In short, this is a work that details both the highs and the infamous lows in Wilde's career, resulting in a feature that flows, perhaps too often, between differing time frames; one moment seen arriving in Dieppe, France in May 1897 upon his release from prison, complete with his 50,000-word letter to Douglas that became De Profundis, to next lying on his deathbed in November 1900: "I'm in mortal combat with this wallpaper; one of us has to go."

Now going by the name of 'Sebastian Melmoth' after Saint Sebastian and the titular character of Melmoth the Wanderer from the Gothic novel by Charles Maturin, his great-uncle, it was as certain as night follows day that Wilde would want to see again the man who was both the joy and sorrow of his life. Acknowledging such, we see Wilde being reunited with Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas in August 1897 at Rouen, whereupon they lived together for a few months thereafter near Naples, until the threat of having their funds severed forced the two men to part. Colin Morgan, now a long way from Merlin, plays Bosie with all of the arrogance, vanity and yet charm of the Jude Law characterization in the Brian Gilbert feature Wilde, their relationship tempestuous to the extreme and one that Wilde himself knew would end in tragedy, citing that: "I must love and be loved; whatever price I pay for it." Throughout all of this however, Wilde's one true love remained his wife Constance and here Emily Watson gives a dignified, if all too brief portrait of a woman who was herself in the latter months of life and notably cuts to the chase by poignantly commenting that "Oscar destroyed himself and everyone around him."

As ever, certain real life characters are obligatory to the telling of Wilde's life and in particular his deep friendship with Robert 'Robbie' Ross and Reginald 'Reggie' Turner, played respectively and splendidly by Edwin Thomas and real life friend and frequent co-star Colin Firth. Yet in detailing Wilde's life story, Everett and in a career-defining performance has and as expected, laced the narrative with many of Wilde's celebrated witticisms. The result is a script overflowing with the style, wit and satirical humour of Wilde at the height of his critical acclaim. Yet this incarnation of Wilde and for the main part, is a sorry sight, having squandered what little money he had on drink, drugs (either for his own use or for others) and sex with young men of questionable age. A shadow of his flamboyant former self, Everett portrays him as a diminished writer reduced to using his craft to survive, his yearning for the theatrical spotlight seeing him now play to an audience of drunks and street urchins.

Nonetheless, Everett here almost unrecognizable under layers of makeup, has to be congratulated in having surmounted numerous obstacles that lay in his cinematic path, including continual battles for funding, to produce such a compelling insight into the last years of Oscar Wilde. For this is a warts and all account of a man whose fall from grace saw him sink to the depths of dejection and here Everett does not shy away from detailing the shocking Clapham Junction episode when Wilde was jeered and spat on by a bigoted and highly irate crowd upon his transfer in November 1895 to Reading Gaol; an incident that he would come to refer to as being the lowest point of his incarceration.

Wilde was never to return to the UK, with his sole work thereafter being The Ballad of Reading Gaol that he wrote in mid-1897, published under the pseudonym of C33; his prison cell number at Reading Gaol that all but gave away its anonymity. The book was a major success, with the seventh edition publicly acknowledging Oscar Wilde on the title page. Still in demand for his words of wit and style, Wilde himself would proclaim to have "lost the joy of writing" and we in turn, lost a great literary figure who lived and died for his love of words, women and men.

"Like dear St. Francis of Assisi, I am wedded to poverty.
But in my case the marriage is not a success." / Oscar Wilde.
›› available as part of the LIONSGATE HOME ENTERTAINMENT catalogue: 15th October, 2018 / UK.
›› posted: Friday, 13th May, 2022.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - the full monty | Overall - file under ... 4 stars

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