The Happy Prince

The Importance Of Being Wilde

Rupert Everett is sensational as he sinks his teeth into the role of a lifetime – that of Oscar Wilde – with the flamboyant star inhabiting the literary icon at his ignominious end. The Happy Prince also marks Everett’s debut as writer/director and he proves accomplished at both, taking a far from rose-tinted look at an amply analysed figure.

Poster for the Oscar Wilde biopic The Happy PrinceNamed after Wilde’s short story for children, which he tells over the course of proceedings, The Happy Prince shows the writer emerging from the darkness of his disgrace by gaslight and candle flame – an aesthetic simultaneously warm and seedy. The tone is sympathetic and The Happy Prince captures all the sadness of a fallen star; the despicable way Wilde is treated by the public and criminal justice system alike elicits considerable compassion.

Yet the film offers a surprisingly and courageously unflattering portrait of Wilde’s post-prison existence in France and Italy. His treatment is unforgivable but he’s undone by his own weakness; striking up a friendship with two urchins, he extracts sexual favours from the elder, while playing avuncular storyteller to the younger. And, although prone to grandiose pronouncements of strength (“Suffering is nothing when there is love. Love is everything.”), he is nevertheless mired in self-pity, venting his anger on those who love him the most.

Colin Firth and Emily Watson are well cast as Wilde’s pal Reggie Turner and his estranged wife Constance. Colin Morgan makes for a deliciously capricious, vain and infuriating Bosie, who sends the writer over the edge. But make no mistake, it’s Everett’s show; as he lets us see the spark behind Wilde’s sorrow, he ensures you have no need to look any where else.

– Emma Simmonds, The List

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