The Happy Prince

 

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Not necessarily a film for the masses, but one for all time.

   
 Happy Prince, The

It was in 2012 that Rupert Everett played Oscar Wilde in a West End revival of David Hare’s play The Judas Kiss. However, by then Everett had already written a screenplay of his own centred on the years after scandal had destroyed Wilde’s career as a playwright and had seen him reviled and jailed. It took some years to put that screenplay into production, but it now reaches us with three credits for Everett: writer, star and director.

 

The film that has emerged, The Happy Prince, is utterly extraordinary but not quite what some audiences will expect. That’s because it is no traditional circumspect portrait of Wilde’s last phase as he lived out his days in exile in Dieppe, Naples and Paris. Nor is it a narrative calculated to wring easy tears. Instead, Everett portrays Wilde as a truly complex figure, one who meets tragedy with bravado while often irrational in his behaviour, an unscrupulous scrounger, a man who continued to cause hurt to those around him and on occasion an absurd figure. Yet, above all, Everett sees him as a non-conformist who lived life his own way to the very end. So many aspects merge here that you cannot altogether pin down this Wilde, but Everett plays the role from the inside and with a relish that makes you realise that the actor has found the role that means more to him than any other.

 

But the surprises don’t end there. The presence - in many cases in very small roles - of such distinguished players as Colin Firth, Emily Watson and Tom Wilkinson may lead many to expect a straightforward period piece. Instead, Everett’s screenplay jumps around allowing for intercut memory shots while also threading through the film references to Wilde’s ambitious fairy-tale The Happy Prince. Indeed the style of it (not always entirely successful for Everett is a novice director whose inexperience sometimes shows through) is nearer to that of Derek Jarman than to standard commercial fare (I am thinking here of a work like Caravaggio rather than Jarman’s more extreme avant-garde pieces). But comparisons are really beside the point. This film is undoubtedly born of Everett’s individuality and emerges as one of the strongest examples ever of a film that exudes a gay sensibility. The most significant supporting roles got to Colin Morgan as Wilde’s beloved Bosie and to Edwin Thomas as Robbie Ross, the latter so loyal to Oscar but with a love that goes as unrewarded as that of Oscar’s wife, Constance (Watson’s role). But, when all is said and done, Everett is in every sense the heart and soul of this film and its character is so distinctive that comparison with other films about Oscar Wilde is beside the point. This one is unique.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Colin Morgan, Edwin Thomas, Emily Watson, Antonio Spagnuolo, Franca Abategiovanni, Alister Cameron, Anna Chancellor, Tom Colley, Béatrice Dalle, André Penvern, Ronald Pickup, Matteo Salamone, John Standing, Benjamin Voisin, Julian Wadham, Tom Wilkinson.

 

Dir Rupert Everett, Pro Sébastien Delloye, Philipp Kreuzer and Jörg Schulze, Screenplay Rupert Everett, Ph John Conroy, Pro Des Brian Morris, Ed Nicolas Gaster, Music Gabriel Yared, Costumes Maurizio Millenotti and Gianni Casalnuovo.

  
BBC Films/A maze picture and Entre Chien et Loup production/Palomar/Raindog Films/cine plus Filmproduktion/Daryl Prince Productions-Lionsgate.
105 mins. Germany/Belgium/Italy/UK. 2018. Rel: 15 June 2018. Cert. 15.