The Happy Prince (2018)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.  

United Kingdom/Belgium/Italy/Germany, 2018.  , , , , , , , , , .  Screenplay by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by , .  Film Editing by .  

Rupert Everett labored for a decade to get this film about Oscar Wilde’s final days made, turning down other projects to remain available for the green light and stoking interest in film producers by touring the world on stage with David Hare’s similarly-themed Judas Kiss.  The result, as it turns out, was well worth the trouble, as Everett (working as star, writer and director) has created a visually masterful and emotionally powerful film that gives us a far more complex Wilde than we’ve had on screen yet (and, surprisingly, writes a better script than Hare’s play, which is far from his finest work).  Following his years of hard labor in prison for having been found guilty of indulging in the “love that dare not speak its name”, Wilde wanders the European continent under increasingly ill health and rapidly increasing depression, haunted by the past and lonely for the relationship that got him in trouble in the first place.  Despite help from friends ( as Reggie Turner and a lovely as his devoted Robbie Ross), Wilde can’t get Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas () out of his head, worrying his friends that much more by giving up his wife’s financial support (which was granted him on the grounds that he never see Bosie again) to take up with Bosie in Italy and head straight for his ruin.  Everett has as strong a grasp on Wilde’s wickedly funny wit as he does on his inner contradictions, a self-destructive survivor who rages against a world unwilling to accept him entirely but who also sees something romantic in his own pathetic end, bloated and ailing and begging for coins in a Paris bar.  Everett smashes the pristine images of Wilde that proliferate over a century after his death, the flawless scribe who has become a saintly victim of prejudice and oppression, giving him instead the right amount of contradictions:  his treatment by a society steeped in hypocrisy about sex is tragic, but you also get the impression that Wilde might just have fun ruining his life over Bosie even in today’s more permissive age.  Nothing is simple in this richly melodramatic film in which the supporting cast given ample opportunity to show off their own complexity, especially  as Constance, not portrayed as an ignorant prig but as someone with sympathetic concerns for her husband that run alongside with her prejudices and personal feelings of vengeance.  Despite the many hats he wears on this film, and even considering that the role demands non-stop chewing of scenery, it’s marvelous how easily Everett gives attention to the actors he shares the screen with throughout the film.

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