‘The Happy Prince’ star Rupert Everett on channeling Oscar Wilde to reignite his career.
For my review of the film, see here:
The Happy Prince—(2018)
For my review of the film, see here:
The Happy Prince—(2018)
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.
It was time for the press screening of The Happy Prince, Rupert Everett’s new bio-pic of Oscar Wilde’s post-parting prison depression, to be shown at the headquarters of Sony Pictures in New York ahead of its general release in the U.S. later this month.
I was becoming excited, and as I would be coming a long way, I decided to prepare in a manner becoming the movie.
Here are Oscar and Bosie in May 1893 at the studio of photographers Gillman & Co. of Oxford, whose establishment was at 107 St Aldate’s Street. That location today, to set a tone of bathos, is a Ladbrokes Off Track Betting Shop.
This well known picture captures the boys relaxed and smoking, distant even—apparently between arguments. But upon inspection you’ll see that, in keeping with their lives, all was not as it seems.
It has long been assumed that all of the 1882 photographs of Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony were taken during the same visit to his studio. Indeed, in all of Wilde studies there does not appear to be any record of an assertion to the contrary.
However, there is a convincing case to be made that the LAST FOUR photographs were taken at a later date.
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.
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. 
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.
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.
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.