Rupert Everett’s passion project on the final years of Oscar Wilde honors the writer through dynamic writing and direction.
Chronicling the final years of legendary English playwright, poet, and author Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince is both dreadfully bleak and delightful at the same time, much like Wilde himself. Rupert Everett writes, directs, and stars in this dramatization of the years after the disgraced wordsmith is released from prison. The role fits Everett like a glove, and his incredible performance carries the film through thick and thin. At certain points serving as a pedestal to lift up the film and everything it offers, while at others acting as a crutch for it to rest as he carries it along.
The focus is almost exclusively on Wilde at his lowest. Choosing to pick up after Wilde’s completion of a two-year prison sentence due to his incredibly public and scandalous conviction of homosexuality. He is left to pick up the pieces of his now ruined career, relationship with his wife and kids, and wrestle with his self-image. Through public humiliation, loss of his career, and his rapidly declining health, Wilde’s most endearing traits endure. Both hit and love for the dramatic, and they take center stage.
The film belongs to Everett in every way, from the writing, to the direction, to the acting, it’s clear that Everett is going to have his way with the audience and the supporting cast, whether they like it or not. Which more often than not, is a good thing. His script is a the soaring high point of the film, allowing Everett and the actors around him to fully submerge themselves in their characters. The dialogue works wonders in bringing Oscar Wilde to life, in all his devilish wit, cleverness, and unyielding flamboyance. It pulls the audience into Wilde’s world, one of supreme literary intelligence that doesn’t slow down and wait for any stragglers to catch up. And while the well written dialogue is enough to make most scenes tolerable at the least, the film does drag in some places, relying on the writing to string it along.
The script’s relentless literary intensity can prove to be exhausting at times, providing several places for the audience to find themselves hopelessly lost in a never-ending spiral of lyrical cartwheels, which will definitely turn a lot of viewers off. But being able to keep pace with the film does prove fruitful. And while the star of the film is unquestionably Everett, Colin Morgan shines as well in support as Wilde’s incriminating lover Bosie.
While The Happy Prince can prove tiring at times, those who are able and willing to stay or track with it will be pleasantly rewarded. The film pays tribute to the tragedy and ironic wit of one of history’s greatest writers in as fitting a way as any, through intense lyric writing and spoken word.