REVIEW / DRAMA BIOGRAPHY
THE HAPPY PRINCE (R21)
100 minutes/Now showing/ 2.5 stars
The story: Poet and playwright Oscar Wilde (Rupert Everett), once among the most celebrated writers in the English-speaking world, is broke and dying in a run-down hotel room in Paris. He recalls happier days, when he arrived in France, where he exiled himself after serving a two-year sentence for sodomy. With money from friends Reggie Turner (Colin Firth) and Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), he finds creature comforts, but little peace. Memories of prison torment him, as does the separation from those he cherishes most: his children and his lover, Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas (Colin Morgan).
Actor Rupert Everett makes his directing debut in this rambling, repetitive but occasionally interesting record of Wilde's final years in continental Europe, before his death at age 46 in 1900.
Talk about a character with flaws. Everett, who also wrote the screenplay, plays the writer as a man driven by insatiable appetites for fine food and wine, music, language (English and French) and, most of all, love.
Wilde has everything he needs to live out the rest of his life in comfort, but as he ruefully admits: "I am my own Judas."
Loyal, always-forgiving friends like Turner (Firth) and Ross (Thomas) cannot steer him away from destructive self-indulgence.
Wilde's excesses not only take a toll on his health, but they also estrange him from his wife Constance (Emily Watson) and beloved children.
That separation from family worsens his mental state. Everett indicates that the writer's mind was fractured by post-traumatic stress disorder caused by a two-year sentence of hard labour and the public harassment he endured.
This contemporary flavour of armchair psychology sits uneasily atop the Victorian trappings of the story.
Wilde, true to his reputation, speaks in epigrammatic fashion. At one point, when beating back English hooligans who have chased him down in France, he shouts: "Go back to England, the natural home of the hypocrite."
It is a compact line that speaks of his eloquence and the use of criminal law against homosexuality, and one occasion that the story becomes political, an aspect of his life that has been covered in other biographies for the stage and screen.
Wilde's painful decline is drenched in romantic idealism - in a fictional touch, he becomes a father figure to adorable French orphans - and worsened by Everett's reluctance to rein in the sprawl of characters and dialogue.