Director: Brian Gilbert
Screenplay: Julian Mitchell
Based on a Book by: Richard Ellmann
Starring: Stephen Fry, Jude Law, Vanessa Redgrave
Country: UK, Germany, Japan
Running Time: 118 min
BBFC Certificate: U
Wilde, originally released in 1997 but just released on Blu-Ray, is a compelling biopic drama based on Oscar Wilde’s (Stephen Fry) relationship with the love of his life, Lord Alfred Douglas (Jude Law), and the resultant shaming and imprisonment that follows.
The first half hour of the film covers five plus years of Wilde’s life at an almost disconcerting pace, documenting through key moments his marriage to Constance, birth of his sons and predictable sexual awakening to men via Robbie Ross’ advances.
It’s when Wilde meets Lord Alfred Douglas, colloquially known as Bosie, that the fast pace slows down and things get more interesting. The first meeting of Wilde and Bosie is charged with intensity, with Law’s piercing gaze searing into Fry’s rather stricken one.
From there the relationship seems to move forward quickly, Wilde and Bosie get in bed together and move in together and before long Wilde’s disgruntled ex-lovers are commenting that he’s in love this time and his rather naive wife is remarking that he hasn’t been home in so long.
The love story well and truly takes centre stage, though the family lives of both men maintain a constant presence throughout and, as Wilde’s wife and children fade further from view, Bosie’s family ties, through his homophobic brute of a father, come into focus as the end of the film approaches. Despite initially appearing charmed by Wilde over dinner at a restaurant, Bosie’s father, Lord Queensberry. becomes more and more aggressive towards Wilde, culminating in an accusation of sodomy.
Ignoring the unwaveringly faithful Robbie’s pleas to the contrary, Wilde takes Lord Queensberry to court for libel. This, as expected, results in evidence stacking up against him and Wilde’s scandalous arrest and imprisonment.
Despite the rather grim turn of events the film thankfully still manages to end on a high, with Wilde hesitantly going to meet Bosie after release from prison and a joyful reunion between the two (only slightly dampened by the written epilogue which tells us they parted ways for the final time three months later).
Though the film feels a little rushed and disjointed in places, it is enjoyable, especially so as Fry and Law are at the top of their game, as good, perhaps, as I have ever seen them. Their chemistry is such that a relationship between their characters is one hundred percent believable, something that is lacking in the relationship between Wilde and Constance for instance.
Another particular highlight for me is the braiding of the giant story we assume Wilde is telling to his children into the film’s narrative. At certain points during the film we hear Wilde, and, at least once, his son, telling parts of a story about a giant and a little boy. In addition to serving as a constant reminder of Wilde’s family commitments – pushed into the background after Wilde meets Bosie – and a metaphor for the emotional states of characters at certain points in the film, this also reminds us of his prowess as a storyteller, that this is the legendary Oscar Wilde’s life playing out before us.
On that note, I would perhaps have liked to see more focus on Wilde’s literature in the film – The fantastic The Picture of Dorian Gray in particular which seems somewhat apt. There is reference to it of course, but it may have been interesting to have seen how the ideas it presents affected Wilde and maybe even have a subtle comparison drawn between Bosie and Dorian (something that doesn’t seem so outlandish considering Bosie’s youth and beauty, his visits to the ‘den of vice’ and his restlessness).
All in all, this is a solid and wonderfully cast biopic. Well worth a watch especially for those with a penchant for biopics, love stories or Oscar Wilde himself, but absolutely essential viewing for fans of Fry and Law.
Review by Becky Youe.