Fittingly, Rupert Everett’s The Happy Prince, which plunges into the final days in the life of Oscar Wilde, plays as a swirl of anguish and anger, a fever of boozy reveries, pained regrets, public humiliations, lavish hedonism and squalid deathbed conferences between God, man and those ghastly curtains. Everett, plumped up with prosthetics, proves commanding even as a man laid low. The story starts with Wilde’s release from prison after two years of hard labor for the crime of homosexuality; we see him harried by the British public at a train station and later chased through the streets by jeering young men abroad. Wilde vows, upon release, to dedicate himself to his marriage (Emily Watson plays Constance, Wilde’s wife) but the resolution proves hopeless — and against his very nature, a truth he sometimes faces and sometimes hides from.
Everett’s film finds Wilde broke and nearly broken, a pariah who at least is finally free, in Paris and Naples, to love the men that he loves. The key fellows are the swanning Bosie (Colin Morgan), rakish and radiant in Naples, and the sober Robert “Robbie” Ross (Edwin Thomas), who urges the old sport to be cautious, less the minor allowance that Constance affords him get cut off. While lively and witty, alive with incident and convincing period dressing, the film not only depicts a downward spiral but takes that spiral as formal inspiration. Its most entrancing sections come early, and its last third is a diminishment, the man and his voice slowly snuffing out. Still, a quiet fury singes its final moments, a sense of horrific injustice, a reminder of the outrages history has authored as punishment simply for living.
Rupert EverettRupert Everett, Colin Firth, Colin Morgan, Edwin Thomas, Emily WatsonRupert EverettSony Pictures Classics