Directed by Brian Gilbert
Cast: Stephen Fry, Jude Law, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael Sheen, Tom Wilkinson, Gemma Jones, Jennifer Ehle, Judy Parfit
Review by Stefan Leverton
The story of Oscar Wilde, genius, poet, playwright and the First Modern Man. The self-realisation of his homosexuality caused Wilde enormous torment as he juggled marriage, fatherhood and responsibility with his obsessive love for Lord Alfred Douglas, nicknamed Bosie. After legal action instigated by Bosie’s father, the mad Marquess of Queensberry, Wilde refused to flee the country and was sentenced to two years at hard labour by the courts of an intolerant Victorian society.
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Wilde is the biopic telling the infamous story of Oscar Wilde, one of Ireland’s and the Victorian era’s greatest playwright and poet. Above that he represented the rise in the appreciation for all things aesthetic, fashion and style as well as being one of the wittiest historical figures that I can think of. His life wasn’t all plaudits though, and he courted controversy to the full.
The film begins with Wilde returning from America, marrying Constance Wilde and having two boys, Cyril and Vyvyan. Then it begins, not wanting to over-state anything, his rise and fall. Taking the theatre world by storm, Wilde’s plays illuminate the west end and he becomes the toast of the town. With an invigorated zeal for socialising, Wilde acquaints himself with all the lavishness his success affords him.
This ignites a spark within Wilde, especially after becoming familiar with Robbie Ross. After their meeting Wilde’s ‘outs’ himself amongst the homosexual community, and in doing so becomes the person he may’ve always known he was. Then the shift moves from his work to his personal life. An intense affair rises between Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, nicknamed Bosie. Bosie is drawn to the artful and wise Wilde, while Wilde is drawn to the youthful pretty Bosie.
Their relationship has its ups and downs, mainly due to Bosie’s impetuousness, but ultimately has its dramatic anchor in the film as in Wilde’s life by being the scandal that brought shame upon Wilde’s family and indeed his professional reputation. Bosie’s father, the Mad Marquess of Queensberry, files a lawsuit against Wilde and his lewd illegal behaviour.
The ensuing court case, is widely publicised and the witch hunt that surrounds it sees the steadfast Wilde prosecuted for his actions and sentenced to four years hard labour after refusing to take exile. Then we witness Wilde’s decline, removed of his style in gaol. Even on his release when he takes refuge in Europe his healthy withers and Wilde dies resolute but very much alone in Paris, 1900.
As a fan of Wilde’s work, I feel this film does tremendous justice to the man, played with sheer perfection by Stephen Fry. Fry said of the role that it was the one he was born to play, and he is in no way over stating that fact. And the filmmakers have done a wonderful job of adding to the creation by giving Fry just the right appearance as a young-twenty-something but also as the broken-aged-man Wilde becomes during his incarceration. And special mention should go to Jude law who, aside from looking good in the role, acts as a great folly to Wilde, being that they are at different stages of their lives.
The only criticism of the film is that those who aren’t familiar with Wilde may struggle to be enraptured by the drama of the film which never really peaks. I think that to be slightly mis-guided as Wilde himself fully understood what was going on, there was no outrage from him, though he did stand resolutely and argued his case to spite all that, though sadly without success. What stands is the memory of such outrageous persecution from the justice system and society to persecute someone, when today that wouldn’t even enter the consciousness.