The Happy Prince
Rupert Everett’s The Happy Prince is a stormy, semi-expressionist account of Oscar Wilde’s final years, with Everett himself playing Wilde.
Everett the actor is an extraordinary incarnation of the author and public performer in all the pathos, grotesquerie and flamboyancy of the days following his release from prison (after a “sodomite” conviction) and preceding his subsequent death. Everett the filmmaker conjures up a good deal of quasi-Victorian phantasmagoria, some of which is darkly rich in period atmosphere and some of which is thick with ornate confusions.
Emily Watson is strong and steady in the perhaps thankless role of Constance Wilde, the writer’s wife and mother of his two sons. Colin Firth, Colin Morgan and Edwin Thomas are diversely incisive as the writer’s most devoted friends and lovers.
Morgan is especially sharp as Wilde’s beloved “Bosie,” Alfred Douglas, whose paradoxical passions seem the obverse reflections of Wilde’s own self-contradicting genius. Tom Wilkinson, Béatrice Dalle, Anna Chancellor and Antonio Spagnuolo are also noteworthy in key smaller roles.
Along the way, Everett’s film takes notice of the history of Britain’s laws against homosexual conduct, and provides multiple glimpses of solidarity among gay men in moments and periods of social duress. And Everett’s Wilde, both shabby and brilliant, gradually emerges as a great messy, large-spirited icon for, perhaps, several kinds of liberation.