Writer and director: Rupert Everett
Cast: Rupert Everett, Emily Watson, Edwin Thomas, Colin Morgan, Tom Wilkinson, Benjamin Voisin, Colin Firth
105 mins, UK, 2018
Rupert Everett writes, directs and stars in this tender, moving biopic about Oscar Wilde’s final years in exile in France and Italy, reduced to penury and shunned – or worse – by the English abroad.
Everett gives a tour-de-force of a performance as not-entirely-broken Oscar Wilde, newly-released from two years’ hard labour in Reading Gaol, throwing away his chances of reconciliation with his wife Constance (played by Emily Watson with sympathy and dignity) and their two young sons, in favour of handsome heartless Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, who got him into trouble in the first place.
The screenplay brilliantly uses Wilde’s narration of his own story ‘The Happy Prince’, a tragic tale of selfless love, as a framework, within which key moments of his life are revisited, moments of triumph, and of tragedy. While the camera sets up a series of painterly – but vivid – tableaux of Wilde’s adventures in Normandy, Naples, Paris, we experience the flashbacks intimately, viscerally, through Wilde’s own eyes. As he sits in chains on the platform at Clapham Junction on his lonely journey to Reading Gaol, you almost feel the spit on your own face from the jeering cruel crowd.
Everett captures Wilde’s courage, his spirit, his intelligence and charm, and his fatal self-destructiveness. The supporting players in the story of Wilde’s life are all excellent: Colin Morgan as golden-haired Bosie, Tom Wilkinson as the Irish priest who performs Wilde’s death-bed conversion to Catholicism, Benjamin Voisin as the Parisian rent-boy and his small brother (whose name I can’t find credited), who touchingly transform into the sons Wilde has lost. Edwin Thomas is particularly good as Wilde’s loyal, loving friend Robert Ross, who became his literary executor and whose ashes are buried (we are told in the closing credits) alongside Oscar Wilde in Père Lachaise.
You cry – or rather I cried – for Ross as well as for Wilde, and for Wilde’s small sons, and for Constance, for the dead swallow and for his friend the happy prince.