The Happy Prince

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Rupert Everett in The Happy Prince
"A mixed bag, as while Everett the actor masterfully evokes the mournful mix of decadence and decay of the last years of Wilde, Everett the filmmaker is, like so many before him, too much in love with the brilliant old rogue for his own good." | Photo: Wilhelm Moser

If you asked people to draw up a wishlist of actors to play Oscar Wilde on film, Rupert Everett would almost certainly be near the top. He’s had a long association with the playwright, starring in big screen adaptations of The Importance Of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband, and on stage in David Hare's The Judas Kiss, which charts Wilde's slide into scandal because of lover Lord Alfred Douglas, better known as Bosie.

Now, in The Happy Prince - which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Everett not only steps into the shoes of the Victorian writer and raconteur but makes his writing and directing debut. The result is a mixed bag, as while Everett the actor masterfully evokes the mournful mix of decadence and decay of the last years of Wilde, Everett the filmmaker is, like so many before him, too much in love with the brilliant old rogue for his own good.

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The film is bookended and punctuated by a retelling of the melancholic fairy story of the title about the gilded statue and his faithful swallow ally who sacrifice themselves for the love of others - initially recounted to Wilde's children in flashback and later told to two French ragamuffins (Benjamin Voisin and Matteo Salamone) the writer has taken under his wing. Picking up Wilde's life after he’s served two years' hard labour for his affair with Bosie - an injustice the film reminds us was not rectified until his pardoning, along with 50,000 other gay and bisexual men, last year - he is now exiled to France and living on an allowance from estranged wife Constance (Emily Watson, who deserves more screen time).

Everett takes the ambitious approach of presenting these last years as fragments of ruined romance in France and Italy, chiefly charting the author's reunion with the beautiful but shallow Bosie (Colin Morgan, on foppish form) as he resists the altogether more sensible charms of his literary executor Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas in a memorably soulful turn).

The result, though cushioned by well-upholstered performances - including Colin Firth as Wilde’s friend Reggie Turner - is more successful in moments than it is as a fluid narrative. Switching from French to English and back again, seemingly on a whim, doesn’t help. Perhaps because Everett's Wilde is so fleshy and well fleshed out by comparison, there is also a whiff of well-appointed teatime drama to the sets, which are slightly too clean and stagy. When Everett lets Wilde's wit or anger slip out they glitter like one of the Happy Prince's emeralds, but all too often he favours the serious and the sentimental.

Reviewed on: 06 Feb 2018
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The last days of Oscar Wilde.

Director: Rupert Everett

Writer: Rupert Everett

Starring: Colin Firth, Emily Watson, Colin Morgan, Rupert Everett, Tom Wilkinson, Anna Chancellor, Ronald Pickup, Béatrice Dalle, Julian Wadham, Joshua McGuire, John Standing, Daniel Weyman, André Penvern, Edwin Thomas, Tom Colley

Year: 2018

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: Germany, Belgium, UK, Italy


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