“Everett’s stupendous performance as Wilde is both arresting and heartfelt…” – Wayward Wolf.
Oscar Wilde cuts something of a forlorn tragic figure in Rupert Everett’s excellent biopic, The Happy Prince.
Personal treatment that Wilde deems to have been hugely unjust has built up much resentment in the heart of this once so carefree flamboyant wordsmith.
Consequently exiled to the shores of France and then further afield, he lives out his final years begging for handouts and favours from those he knows and loves. Those, that is, that haven’t turned their back on the now disgraced writer.
Everett’s film focuses upon a man whose incarceration and subsequent humiliation on charges of sodomy and gross indecency – following his lewd bordering on nefarious behaviour (in the eyes of the law) – have left him near destitute; a far cry from the opulent lifestyle that once he had led.
The Happy Prince is built loosely around Wilde reciting his fairy tale of the same name to both his own biological sons – during happier married times – and latterly on his death bed to the rag tag ‘family’ of young urchins that he had befriended.
Wilde – under his newly acquired guise of Melmoth – has a kind of morbidly humorous fascination with both the hopelessness of the predicament in which he now finds himself, and with the plethora of men that continue to fawn over him.
A period piece The Happy Prince may essentially be, but there’s a strongly contemporary feel to the film’s at times bewitching cinematography, switching neatly and expertly by way of multiple rapid cross fades between Wilde’s past and present in an effort to build a picture of – and emphasise the massive disparity between – ‘now’ and then.
Everett’s stupendous performance as Wilde is both arresting and heartfelt, whilst there are meaningful contributions from Colin Firth as Wilde’s good friend Reggie, and from Colin Morgan and Edwin Thomas as Bosie and Robbie, respectively, the two mainstays in Wilde’s love life who continue to compete fiercely for his attentions, and between whom there is absolutely no love lost.
As for Emily Watson’s portrayal of Constance, as solid as it is, one can’t help but think that it remains a little peripheral to the film’s narrative at times. Perhaps Everett could have made a little more of the clearly strained relationship that had existed between the two, and the impact that this had had upon their children?
It seems that Wilde was indeed harshly dealt with, and laws or no laws, would have had rightful justification to feel aggrieved at his treatment at the hands of the rather puritanical overreaching government of the time.
That said, Everett’s film seems intent to paint Wilde not as some sort of saintly martyr, but as a charming but deeply flawed man with a propensity for making poor life decisions. A man who had flown too close to the sun, and who perhaps had been more than a little guilty of using and abusing those that knew and loved him so much for his own personal gain.
The Happy Prince, whilst at times cheeky and playful in its outlook, never strays too far from its melancholic roots in its elegantly crafted, poignant regaling of the final days of the late great Oscar Wilde.