The Happy Prince (15)
Directed by and starring Rupert Everett, this witty and poignant dramatisation of Oscar Wilde’s final years in exile is a powerful parable of passion and redemption. This beautifully crafted film brings insight and empathy to these, his gutter years, as he broods over the wreck of his once splendid career.
Rupert Everett | Germany/Belgium/uk/italy | 2018 | 105 mins | 15
There have been two previous films depicting the life of the man who gave us “The Importance of Being Earnest”, “Lady Windermere’s Fan”, and “The Portrait of Dorian Gray”. “The Trials of Oscar Wilde” 91960) starring Peter Finch dealt with the nature of his genius and hubris and “Wilde” (1997) starring Stephen Fry was more of a eulogy to gay love and the intolerance of society. Neither film dealt with the seedy twilight that awaited our hero once he had been convicted of gross indecency.
Rupert Everett’s performance and screenplay offers a far more honest, rounded and in many ways profound exposition of the nature of being Oscar, a snob, and simultaneously an outsider, a man incapable of controlling his self-destructive proclivities, whilst believing in the purity of love and sacrifice.
The narrative undercurrent of “The Happy Prince” is based on Wilde’s childrens’ story of the same name. The prince is a gorgeously caparisoned living statue made of gold and diamonds, who befriends a lost swallow. The swallow becomes the prince’s emissary, finding the poor and needy and giving them the gold and diamonds that make the statue. Soon the statue is destroyed and the bird dead. The tale ends with the lead heart of the statue and the carcass of the exhausted swallow ascending to heaven, because loyalty, sacrifice, and compassion conquer all.
Everett’s Oscar evinces all the loyalty and compassion of a deprived crack addict. He cynically deploys the charm of an out of work actor on the cadge, and preys upon the loyalty of friends and spouse, though the foil to these niceties are his wit and his courage in the face of misery. You can’t help but admire his heroic perversity.
This film is as much about the vulnerability of celebrity and all its delusions as it is an anatomy of sexual identity. Oscar is as much a martyr to his vanity as he is a victim of the establishment he derides; he is a very gifted artist with all the shocking contradictions that entails.
The cinematography by John Conroy is a gorgeous and masterful evocation of the time, forming an opulent backdrop to Oscar’s tormented odyssey and demise in a Paris hotel.
The screenplay for the most part by Everett is historically accurate and as unbiased as can be expected.
When Rupert Everett was told that the Tory government had posthumously pardoned Oscar, he erupted with laughter and dubbed their action “The last fart of British hypocrisy”.
Biographies of great men are never the last word or fart but this film as evocation of Oscar ‘warts and all’ goes a great distance towards it.
Weighted vote 83.22%