As Oscar Wilde said: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” So I shall do justice by this quote and attempt to talk as much about Oscar Wilde in this review of the 1997 biopic film Wilde. But first the standard overview.
The film encompasses Wilde’s adult life, beginning at his trip to America and, upon returning to England, the meeting of his future wife, Constance Lloyd, and then goes on to detail his success as a playwright and novelist, a charming wit, and of course, which ultimately led to his downfall, his homosexuality. The film culminates in the Wilde vs. Queensberry trial, his imprisonment in Reading Gaol, and his eventual death in 1900. And no, I’m not calling spoilers on that. This piece of information has been around for over a hundred years and really does not affect whether or not you will enjoy the film.
I feel I should get one thing straight here before moving on to the actual review. This film will not be for everybody. I know it won’t. Not because people might think it’s poorly acted, or they think its misrepresent Wilde, or that it is a film which as part of its foundational basis is about a man learning about his homosexuality in an era which abhors such practices. It is none of those things. What it is is that in this film there are several scenes, although none of them are gratuitous, shows homosexuals having sex. Several times.
I know, shock, horror, and so on and so forth. This may seem to really be a non-issue, and don’t misinterpret me: it is a non-issue, but I know some people may be uncomfortable with sex scenes of homosexual nature, let alone a whole film with homosexual scenes sprinkled liberally all around.
Let me put it this way, and I know some of my audience (limited as it may be) may have no idea what I am talking about but I’ll plough ahead and see if it makes an impression upon you. In Game of Thrones there is a homosexual couple – Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell. I won’t go into their secret relationship as that’d be giving too much away about Game of Thrones but there are scenes where Renly and Loras kiss and, unseen mind you, perform fellatio.
Again, nothing gratuitous, but I know some people who felt these scenes could not go away quick enough. They felt it was weird and, in one case, said the sounds they made it awkward to keep watching, and had to look away until the end of the scene.
Now you may be thinking they were just uncomfortable with sex scenes. No. There are loads of heterosexual sex scenes in Game of Thrones and no-one thought it was awkward when that was on. Strange isn’t it how the equal number of opposite genders having sex is perfectly fine, two women can be deemed perfect by some, yet somehow two men is awkward.
Well thank you Wilde for giving a film shows the probable realities of Wilde’s life, both his literary, family and hidden homosexual life in perfect equality. While the film is primarily about Wilde’s sexuality and the consequences of it, it is still a brilliant film which portrays the ups and downs of Wilde’s life and isn’t afraid to give us a glance at all of it whilst bringing the brilliant wit of Wilde to the fore at every possible occasion.
I cannot think of a single criticism of Stephen Fry’s (V for Vendetta, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) portrayal of Oscar Wilde. Aside from looking similar to Wilde, he puts across a seemingly effortless performance, bringing forth wit, love and sorrow to the fore at every possible moment. One moment you will be laughing along with him as he makes another quip which will disable a man within a second, whilst making men and women look upon him in admiration, then the next he becomes a broken and stigmatised man in Reading Gaol that leaves you almost with a heavy heart as to how such a talented and harmless man could be treated in such a manner.
Fry’s performance has such believability that it makes you almost believe that Fry is merely a reincarnation of Wilde himself and I, along with a few others I hope, would have no problem in believing this either. Also, with Fry reciting Wilde’s story The Selfish Giant throughout the film, showing that although we may strike out and try to block off things we dislike and do not understand, we shall forever be in a winter until we accept those which we initially cast off in disgust.
Yet Fry alone cannot carry the weight of Wilde’s story, and this is where the supporting cast come in. Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, The Damned United) turns in a sterling performance as Wilde’s initial companion and continuous confidant throughout the duration. One can really see the devotion Ross has for Wilde and Sheen puts it across manner which allows him to appear his own man, and not anyone’s lapdog.
Tom Wilkinson (The Full Monty, In the Bedroom, Valkyrie) also delivers a great performance as the loathsome Marquess of Queensberry who sees nothing but abnormality within Wilde, despite Wilde and Queensberry’s cool dinner together, embodies the despicable character of the age when his thoughts upon homosexuality were the norm for society. Wilkinson’s performance is well done not only as a marker of what society deemed unnatural in days gone by, but also as a reminder that we should not slip back into those ways as some nations and societies appear to be doing today (and yes, that is a blatant point against Russia and other countries).
However one can hardly mention a supporting cast without mentioning the most important of all, in terms of the story: Jude Law. Law (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Road to Perdition, Cold Mountain, and the Sherlock Holmes films) puts in a great, and somewhat bi-polar performance as Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, the Marquess of Queensbury’s son. From being a delightful, charming young man which Wilde sees all the promise and prospect of youth, to a raging, unforgiving and non-committal youth who eschews anything and everything if he does not get his way.
Law can go from being absolutely charming, to hateable, to charming all in one scene, and although the charm wears as the film progresses, it never deserts him, allowing Bosie to remain a character we don’t want to be gotten rid of just yet, even when he is the ultimate cause of Wilde’s downfall.
Wilde, while not the action-packed film that some crave, is definitely worth a viewing. Taking a look at Wilde’s successes and the development of his character and his sexuality is poignant in this day and age as well as a love letter to one of the greatest wits and writers who ever wandered the earth.