Rupert Everett (director)
15 June 2018 (released)
A long gestating labour of love written, directed and starring Rupert Everett The Happy Prince is an account of Oscar Wilde’s last few years after his release from jail for ‘gross indecency’ and his wanderings around France and Italy.
Helped by his friends Robbie Ross and Reggie Turner (Edwin Thomas and Colin Firth respectively) he tries to recover something of his previous life. The problem is that while his appetites for rich meals and a salacious lifestyle remain he’s just unable to sate these due to lack of money. With a creative barren spell and not receiving royalties from his plays, he’s reduced to loans from friends and acquaintances.
It’s as a bitter man that recalls his treatment by the establishment and by his once adoring public. The latter graphic in a grisly scene of Wilde in grey prison uniform waiting at Clapham Junction station with a prison guard is recognised, abused and humiliated.
Everett is sublime as Wilde; a man who knows he is now a shadow seeking substance, coming to terms with life and his deteriorating health. Holding on to his memories of his children - to whom he reads The Happy Prince and does so now to a rent boy and his brother - and his ex-wife Constance played by Emily Watson who has the means to support him but cuts him off once he renews his friendship with Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas (Colin Morgan).
What is interesting is that Everett doesn’t try too hard to cultivate much sympathy for Wilde away from the injustice of his imprisonment. Indeed no one in The Happy Prince is particularly likeable, other than the aforementioned Ross and Turner. Wilde himself is arrogant though a sliver of what he was, being virtually barren in his writing. Almost tossing aside his friends as he renews his friendship with the manipulative and base Bosie. Colin Morgan is a rapier mouthed dandy, a man who sponged off Wilde in the good days but now has nothing to offer other than contempt. His reacquaintance results in his father, the Marquess of Queensbury whose lawsuit destroyed Wilde in the first place, cutting him off.
The film’s dank ambience serves the images of a virtually destitute Wilde consorting with rent boys in seedy backstreets and lodgings. There is fragmentation to the narrative at times, as the film dips into his early days as a successful playwright and celebrity, though this is not totally out of step as Wilde’s illness begins to take hold and he hallucinates.
The final scenes in a Paris hotel are grim, and if maybe a little flabby, they nevertheless allow Wilde to pass with some dignity.