Rupert Everett’s long-in-gestation passion project adumbrating the latter years of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) is a handsomely confected conversation piece reflecting on the persecuted writer’s tragic life, could be comfortably compartmentalized as a companion entry of Brian Giblert’s WILDE, a more cradle-to-grave biopic made two decades ago .
Taking the director chair for the first time and also dipping his toes in hammering out the script, Everett goes a stellar triple-threat transformation in playing the author in his belle-époque Europe exile days, gallivanting around picturesque locations and hotel rooms by eking out his allowance, vouchsafed by his wife Constance (Watson, expectedly underutilized), or taking charity from his un-apostatized admirers and sympathizers, most of which he splashes out on drowning his sorrows (and any young garçons care to join him).
But the past doesn’t let him go easily, in spite of the help from his loyal friend Robbie Ross (Thomas), who sincerely admires and carries a torch for him, he is still tantalized by the idea of reuniting with Bosie Douglas (Morgan), the bane of all his plight. While in WILDE, it feels anything but implausible of Stephen Rea’s Wilde opting for Jude Law’s Bosie over Michael Sheen’s Robbie, here, between an Adonis-like Edwin Thomas and a miscast Colin Morgan (who looks pretty unprepossessing in blond to this reviewer’s eyes), Everett has a much taxing job to validate his option, one might contend that his act exactly corroborates the irrationality of one’s heart’s desire, but in the event, Rupert’s effort fails to conjure up Bosie’s magic mojo, he is a bratty, feckless, egotistic toff to the hilt, and takes the shine off Wilde’s own integrity.
Elsewhere, the film balances out between Wilde’s last flourishes of pomp and depravity (furnished with wonderful tableaux vivants and a raunchy ribbing of the provincial notion about a boys-only orgy), his deteriorating health, the grievance of being betrayed by his own country and people, and a forlorn hope of reconciling with Constance and meeting their two young sons again, pathos creeps in the somber moment when he is on the deathbed, his deteriorating health is compounded by intemperance, self-abandonment, disillusion and inconsolable sorrow (Constance’s sudden passing hits him really hard, visually portended by an oneiric volcano eruption and her final words of love in his dream), but surrounded by his friends and given his last rites by a priest (Wilkinson, who plays Bosie’s snarky aristocratic father in WILDE pops up here in a benevolent cameo), Everett sends a proper eulogy to his idol, someone who is stigmatized by his sexuality just like him, while Wilde never gets a second chance, fortunately, this picture should fairly give Everett a renewing relevance in today’s cinematic sphere, not least for his assiduous investment behind the camera and arduous commitment in front of it, although noticeably hindered by prosthetics and wigs, he knows how to lighten up the scene when flamboyance is beckoning.
referential entries: Brian Gilbert’s WILDE (1997, 7.1/10); Oliver Parker’s AN IDEAL HUSBAND (1999, 7.6/10).