This quite remark-able film depicts the uncharted territory on screen (as far as I know) of the final stages of Oscar Wilde's life in France following his release from prison in 1897 up to his death in Paris three years later at the age of 46. It's a labour of love and dedication from Rupert Everett who wrote the screenplay and directed it, as well as starring as the writer, despite bearing little facial resemblance to the illustrious person himself - and he's to be congratulated on what he's achieved.
The film starts with our seeing Wilde in desperately straitened financial circumstances, living under an alias and nom de plume of Sebastian Melmoth, so impoverished that when a passing English lady recognises him he begs her for money. However, we are not shown a blameless, fallen hero who deserves our sympathies as he's lost none of the haughtiness and arrogance which served him so well in his pre-trial life. Moreover, the little money he does have when he's got any, is frittered away on drink (absinthe) in seedy bars and adolescent boys.
The film's first section has a dizzying compendium of flashbacks to his famed life as a celebrity and a stable family man, including his relating of his short story of 'The Happy Prince' to his two young sons - and in very short takes, views of his wife (Emily Watson) whose on-screen presences, regretfully aggregates to possibly just five minutes. (I'm not sure that giving the the title of the short story to the film does the latter any favours. It sits uneasily with what we see, though that was probably the entire point of calling it so).
He is visited in France by two friends of more blithe times - Colin Firth - and Edwin Thomas as the ever-faithful Robbie Ross, whose own ashes were eventually buried with Wilde. Also calling on him is Alfred Lord Douglas or 'Bosie' (Colin Morgan), the unintended, misguided architect of Wilde's own downfall - though despite all that's happened, Wilde continues to be infatuated with the spoilt brat resulting in disastrous, yet deeper financial consequences for both of them.
It was a good move to bring in Tom Wilkinson to play, towards the film's conclusion, the priest who administers Wilde with the last rites of the Catholic Church (Wilde was, of course, a Protestant). Wilkinson appeared in Stephen Fry's very capable portrayal as 'Wilde' (1997) playing Queensbury.
It's in the main a dark, quite troubling, film, which doesn't shy away from displaying Wilde as a 'warts and all' character. I must commend Everett on daring to portray him, despite being in his destitute state, as a rather unlikeable, even shallow, man, who thinks little of the feelings of those other than himself, remaining blinded by chasing the pleasures of the moment.
I can find no fault in Everett's direction or, indeed, his acting either. I should think that both would deserve award consideration though I get the feeling that it'll be overlooked, particularly by the Oscars (though hopefully not by the BAFTAs), which would be a great shame.
One very slight quibble - I'm not sure that twice using on the soundtrack brief extracts from Tchaikovsky's 'Pathetique' Symphony was wise. It captured the mood, true, but I for one found it distracting.
Incidentally, there's a flashback scene in the film in which we see Wilde at the nadir of his humiliation - when he has to wait, shackled, on a station platform for a train to arrive which will take him to Reading for the gaol there. He's recognised by members of the public and is taunted, laughed at and spat on. When I used to travel regularly to London from here on the south coast, most trains stopped at this station, Clapham Junction - and I'm sure they still do. It's a famous episode in Wilde's life which I've known about for a long time and I never used to pass this station without my thinking of the utterly horrible experience he had there.
I can warmly recommend this film, even moreso if you've any interest at all in Oscar Wilde. Nearly all of what I've read of Wilde's life (a lot) covers and dismisses his post-prison life in a few sympathetic lines, but here it's a both a pleasure and an education to see what happened in those final years expanded and fleshed out so admirably. A heartfelt 'hurrah!' for it.................7.5.
(IMDb...............6.6 / Rotten Tomatoes..........6.8)
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