‘I am a ruined man.’
Few writers are quoted as regularly or as ardently as Oscar Wilde. The stats for how many times such lines as ‘Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.’ and ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at stars.’ have been tweeted, blogged, shared and posted online must be at least six figures. Regarded as one of the greatest wits of the 19th Century, it often gets forgotten that all that glitters is not gold. Film or television incarnations capture him at the height of his success and end just before his imprisonment – as if they are saying that is the fall that scuppered his rise. Whilst it was the trial for ‘indecency’ and subsequent imprisonment – two years hard labour – that did curtail the successes and public adoration, he had further to fall.
That’s the focus of this passion project from Rupert Everett – in which he stars in the lead part, as well as having written and directed it. A film that spent 10 years in the making, we first meet Oscar in the last days of his life. Living with very little money yet paying for sex, cocaine and absinthe whilst also being very clearly ill – he is the epitome of a fallen man. We are soon shown how he got here; the decisions he made just after leading prison that resulted in this fate. The focus, therefore, is not on ‘what will happen next?’ We know what’s going to happen. Instead we must deal with both the sense of inevitability and the overriding injustice he endured.
As Everett has pointed out during the press tour, what happened to Wilde was a result of his own arrogance and self-indulgence. When the Marquess of Queensberry. the father of his lover Lord Alfred Douglas (played here by Colin Morgan) left behind a note accusing him of ‘posing as a sodomite’, Oscar could have ripped up the note and let things lie. Instead he prosecuted the Marquess for libel, in turn causing the truth about Oscar to come to life. This streak continued in his behaviour upon leaving prison – the best way of describing it would be, perhaps, self-destructive. His hubris and pursuit of pleasure – with little fear of the consequences – lead to his death. And yet, as he states in the film, during his later years he had never been so happy.
Clocking in at 105 minutes, Everett does a great job in portraying the dynamics between Oscar and those around him, plus the contradicting components within the man himself. The script is tuned into Wilde’s famillar tone and wit, as is Everett’s performance in front of the camera. Shifting between bleak and warm – this is a biographical film that feels as if it captures the essence of its subject.
The Happy Prince is in UK cinemas now.