February 7, 2019  (Web Review)

The Happy Prince

Sony, 105 min., R, DVD: $20.99, Blu-ray: $24.99, Feb. 12

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

Rupert Everett wrote, directed, and stars in this film about Oscar Wilde, which concentrates on the last years of his life rather than his earlier celebrity and the 1895 trial on charges of gross indecency that brought about his downfall (along with two years of heavy labor in prison). Everett gives shape to his episodic treatment of Wilde’s three years of exile and disgrace on the continent by using Wilde’s titular 1888 short story—about a statue that destroys itself in order to alleviate human suffering—as a running theme, beginning with the author reciting it to his two sons before his conviction and then to two street children he befriends in Paris, and by periodically referencing what Wilde remembers as the most humiliating experience of his ordeal: a stopover during a prison transfer during which he was ridiculed and abused. The film follows Wilde as he moves about Europe between 1897 and 1900, but the central drama is internal. Although he initially claims to desire reconciliation with his wife and sons and condemns Alfred Douglas (Colin Morgan) for betraying him, Wilde cannot overcome his obsession with his erstwhile lover, and when Douglas arrives on the continent, Wilde goes off with him, only to be abandoned when his own funds run out. With a compelling performance by Everett and expert supporting turns from Colin Firth, Emily Watson, and Tom Wilkinson, this deeply felt portrait of the sad coda in the life of a dazzlingly witty writer who has become an icon in the battle for gay rights is highly recommended. (F. Swietek)