Frances Winston reviews this biopic about Oscar Wilde, directed by Rupert Everett
Directed by: Rupert Everett – Starring: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Colin Morgan, Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson, Edwin Thomas
To say this Oscar Wilde biopic is a passion project for writer, director, and star, Everett, is something of an understatement. He first began the process of making this film a decade ago, never intending to direct it. Having jumped through all the various film-making hoops in order to get finance and distribution, and resigning himself to sitting in the director’s chair, it finally makes it to the big screen.
Fittingly, since June is Pride month, this follows gay icon, Oscar Wilde, in his last days as he reflects on his life. Told through flashback, we follow his tempestuous relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, aka Bosie, following his release from prison, his memories of his wife, Constance, and their children, his humiliation at being incarcerated, and his frustrations at being ostracised from the society that once adored him.
By his side as he waits for the inevitable release, are his good friends, Reggie Turner (Firth) and Robbie Ross (Thomas) – the only people who have stood by him following his scandalous trial and imprisonment.
Everett takes on the role of Wilde here. It is one he is used to playing, having toured with David Hare’s play, The Judas Kiss, for several years. His physical transformation is remarkable (apparently aided by a fat suit and some custom made teeth) and he is magnificent as the ailing and exhausted playwright.
He avoids making him foppish, and his Wilde is more visceral and carnal than you will have seen before. While the entire cast do a great job (Colin Morgan as Bosie also deserves mention) this is very much Everett’s show, and he is in almost every scene. It might be a bit early in the year to start throwing around award rumours, but he definitely deserves recognition for his performance.
In terms of his director’s eye, he has done a fantastic job. Time-hopping can be a bit hit and miss in movies, but it works beautifully here, and you can almost imagine Wilde’s fevered brain bouncing back and forth between his memories.
Everett doesn’t deify Wilde. He might be well-bred, but he is still prone to outrageous excesses and seedy experiences. But you also get the sense of regret that comes with losing your family, and those once close to you.
You don’t have to be a fan of Wilde’s work to enjoy this. Essentially, it is the story of a broken man reflecting on where it all went wrong. Entertaining is the wrong word to use to describe this – at times it is an uncomfortable watch. But it is extremely thought-provoking, and aside from showing a side of Wilde that many won’t have seen before, it also highlights the injustices and attitudes of the era (Wilde, like other men convicted of homosexuality, was posthumously pardoned in 2017).
A wonderful directorial debut from Everett, and a fascinating take on one of literature’s most iconic characters, this deserves to find and audience.
In Cinemas Now! 15A rating, ID may be required. See trailer below: