The Happy Prince—(2018)

Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde. Photo by Wilhelm Moser, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

‘The Happy Prince’ Opens in America

You could be forgiven for thinking that a blog about Oscar Wilde might not provide the most objective forum for a film about Oscar Wilde—perhaps being too close to its subject to see it as one would ordinarily.

However, the opposite turns out to be true about The Happy Prince because it is no ordinary film. It warrants a specialist view being itself the work of an Oscar Wilde specialist.

Rupert Everett has played Wilde’s fictional characters both on stage and in film; he has already appeared as the real Oscar Wilde in David Hare’s The Judas Kiss on both sides of the Atlantic; and, after spending an age poring over Wilde’s works in homage to his patron saint, Everett has also spent the last ten years of his life taking on a tide of personal and industry challenges in order to craft this film.

It is an effort that lays bare a more compelling reason why the film should not be regarded as just another movie. And it is a reason Everett shares with the artist Basil Hallward (in Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray) who accepted that his portrait of Dorian was not just another painting. He confessed: “I have put too much of myself into it.”

Wilde explained this characteristically philosophical view of art when he said:

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”

So it is with Everett, whose devotion during a decade of writing, directing, and now acting in a lifetime passion, might also be regarded as his art. Certainly, The Happy Prince is a highly personalized vision: a dark introspection with the protagonist in almost every scene.

So the inference is that we should not approach the film routinely from the outside in, but rather the other way around. Taken on those terms, there is much to admire, not only for the specialist but for the generalist viewer.

Let us look at it, as Everett did, through that lens.

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Young Fry

Stephen Fry as a Younger Oscar Wilde (in America)

Stephen Fry is known for playing Oscar Wilde in the 1997 movie Wilde.

The opening to that film shows Oscar arriving in town on horseback for his lecture in Leadville, Colorado, but the scene gives a false impression. Not because he actually arrived in Leadville by train; no, nothing so pedantic.

The point is that the 1997 film is not even about Wilde’s time in America. Its arc is the period of Oscar’s relationship with Alfred Douglas in Europe ten years later. So why do they show Leadville? The producer once told me that the real-life incident in Leadville, when the encaged Wilde descends into a mineshaft, was included by the screenwriter to symbolize Wilde’s descent in life. One may consider this as another aspect of the film that doesn’t quite fit, but that’s another story.

Instead, let us move forward to the past; because if it is Stephen Fry playing the youthful Wilde in America you want, did you know he had already done just that before he made the film Wilde?

You can discover—and watch—his earlier embodiment of Wilde below.

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Oscar Wilde’s Birthday Dinner

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A Review of the Oscar Wilde Birthday Dinner, 2017

This Article First Appeared in Intentions,
(New Series No. 105, Feb. 2018)

Published by the Oscar Wilde Society

http://oscarwildesociety.co.uk

The twenty-sixth Oscar Wilde Society annual birthday dinner was held on October 13, 2017 at the National Liberal Club in Whitehall — a now familiar home for the Society and its regulars. However, for one delinquent expatriate member it was a first visit to this ‘new’ venue, a fact which prompted the surprised realisation that my previous birthday dinner was almost twenty years ago.

On that distant occasion the dinner was held at the Cadogan Hotel, an experience now so far removed from The National Liberal Club that it might have happened to an invented younger brother. This Wildean idea seemed apt because, if we condense the intervening two decades into the perspective of successive events, the two places emerge as opposite sides of the same coin of the Oscar realm.

Let me explain.

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The Canterville Ghost

The Canterville Ghost is a short story by Oscar Wilde which made its first appearance in America in The New-York Tribune on Sunday, March 27, 1887. [1]

Unfortunately, I was too young to read the original.

However, and to my shame, neither did I catch the 1944 film starring Charles Laughton, the 1962 BBC television drama featuring Bernard Cribbins, the 1966 ABC television musical with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Michael Redgrave, the 1970 Soviet cartoon, the 1974 CBS radio drama, the 1975 made-for-TV film with David Niven, the 1985 film starring no one you’ve ever heard of, the 1986 film with John Gielgud, the 1988 animated television special, the 1992 BBC radio 4 adaptation, the 1996 film with Patrick Stewart, the 1997 TV film starring Ian Richardson, the 2001 Australian film, the 2007 BBC Radio 7 reading by Alistair McGowan, the 2008 Bollywood adaptation, the 2010 graphic novel, the 2011 audiobook narrated by Rupert Degas, the 2016 French-Belgian film, and nor, indeed, the 2017 animated feature film with the voices of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, for which I can be forgiven as it hasn’t been released yet.

That’s a lot of versions, and, before you wonder why has it not been made into an opera, I can tell you it has, and it will debut in New York at the Center For Contemporary Opera as one of a Scare Pair on October 19.

And no, I won’t be able to see that either.

So I determined I should make the effort to experience the darned thing somewhere if I could, even if this meant a community theatre production two-and-a-half hours drive away.

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The Oscar Wilde Bar

Aesthetic period door plaque. Oscar Wilde Bar, New York City.

There have been Oscar Wilde bars before now: in Berlin, San Diego, Chicago, and, I seem to recall, one previously in New York City. There is a Wilde Café in Minneapolis, and a bar called Oscar Wilde 9 located, both surprisingly and unsurprisingly, at #9 Oscar Wilde St. in Mexico City.

Most of these pretenders, however, merely give a nod to the old boy by borrowing his name. One or two, such as Wilde’s Restaurant in The Lodge at Ashford Castle, in Cong, Ireland, and the Oscar Wilde room at the Café Royal in Piccadilly, London, try a little harder to embody Oscar’s maxim that moderation is a fatal thing, and nothing succeeds like excess.

Raising The Bar

But believe me, none of them, past or present, comes remotely close to the lavishness to be found at the new Oscar Wilde Bar in New York City.

As one artistic passerby was heard to exclaim when poking his head through the door, “Minimalism is dead!” And that was when the place was only half finished during the renovations.

Now that it is finished it was time to attend the press reception.

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Time: The Present

I live in terror of not being misunderstood

If Oscar Wilde really did live in terror of not being misunderstood—as he wrote in The Critic as Artist in 1891, he need not have worried. At least not so far as his plays are concerned, because there are parts of the texts now so arcane that they are almost bound to be misunderstood—if they are understood at all.

Take Wilde’s most famous play The Importance of Being Earnest. 

As many appreciate, Earnest still resonates today in everything from the fact that sugar is no longer fashionable to the facade of human shallowness.

But we should not allow the play’s continuing relevance to distract us from its many dated, regional or topical allusions, many of which had an esoteric meaning when Wilde wrote them, but which are now elusive—especially for young or non-British audiences.

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RBS

800px-Uncorking-Old-Sherry-Gillray

When it comes to measuring time, sixty is an oddly benign number. It records the seconds into minutes and the minutes into hours indistinguishably. But when the number is used to mark the passage of years—three score can give one quite a jolt. So when the occasion crept up on me last week, I was need of rejuvenation.

An outing to the theatre would be the tonic I thought. But with the next Wilde play not until later in the month, I would need to find another balm for my (now) furrowed brow.

What then if not Oscar? Perhaps something pre-Oscar…

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