Film revisits Oscar Wilde’s life
By Tom Jozwik
Published Nov. 5, 2018
There is no Mystery so great as Misery.
— Oscar Wilde
The Englishman Rupert Everett, who also wrote and directed, turns in one of the finest performances I’ve seen onscreen this year as the bedeviled Irish writer Oscar Wilde in “The Happy Prince.”
Wilde himself wound up neither happy nor princely, and Everett’s fairly restrained rendering of the versatile penman evokes audience sympathy accordingly. The author of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” forfeited family, friends, freedom (he went to prison), wealth and health to his lifestyle in an era when homosexuality was a criminal offense in Great Britain. “Suffering is nothing when there is love,” he reasons at one point of the film. “Love is everything.”
Emily Watson and Colin Morgan merit mention as Wilde’s estranged wife, Constance, and subsequent significant other, Lord Alfred Douglas. Tom Wilkinson is delightful, as is typical, in the small role of Father Cuthbert Dunne; Wilkinson steals the couple of scenes in which he brings Oscar—dying at age 46 in 1900—into the Catholic Church. “Oscar destroyed himself and everyone around him” a line from the movie has it; and yet he is not alone at his deathbed and burial. Edwin Thomas portrays a devoted Wilde friend, Academy Award laureate Colin Firth another confederate.
The 104-minute film flashes back and forward and back again with great skill, its meandering timeline inexplicably easy to follow. Costumes and sets place the story and its viewer squarely in the Victorian era, while the photography (e.g., some unusual camera angles) can be striking. Shots depicting nudity—to be expected given the subject matter here—are tastefully done.
The movie shares its title with that of a book of Wilde’s tales, tales the onscreen Oscar relates from time to time to youngsters who’ve come to replace his absent sons.