Rupert Everett's directorial and writing debut, The Happy Prince, gives a bleak look at the final years of the great Oscar Wilde. Following him to his death, we hear a compelling tale of love and loss of the famous writer. Everett gives his all to the role and captures his eccentric way well by at times feels overdone and unrelatable, however, this does not subtract from the overall piece.
What's it about?
The Happy Prince follows the famous 19th-century playwright Oscar Wilde (Rupert Everett) in the years leading to his death. Once one of the most loved men in London, he finds himself sent into exile following his release from prison for "gross indecency". He is now hated and ridiculed by the public due to his affair with Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas (Colin Morgan) and left unable to see his wife or children. Aided by his friends Reggie Turner (Colin Firth) and Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), he starts a new life in France under a new identity but is soon found out. Upon reuniting with Bosie, they move to Naples, but this does not last long as a lack of money puts a strain on their relationship. Eventually, he finds himself in Paris, penniless and sick finding love in young rent boys for cocaine and absinthe.
The Rupert Everett show
The Happy Prince is very much a child of Rupert Everett, having written and directed as well as starring as Wilde himself. As usual, he is almost unrecognisable under prosthetics and makeup and truly immerses himself in the eccentricity of the character himself. Wilde is a charmer, he can talk his way through almost anything but has a weakness in love. He follows his heart whether it may go be it with Bosie or in the "purple moments" with the boys in Paris.
Everett puts absolutely everything into this role and it shows, the film truly is his, but I felt his performance began to break down late into the film. As the film progressed and Wilde became sick, Everett's portrayal felt overdone and unconvincing. This may only be for about 10% of the film but it is supposed to be the emotional climax of the film, however, this felt lost to me, I didn't feel any attachment that provoked my emotions in the end.
Disconnected from the audience
As I said, the emotional climax to me felt empty. I don't necessarily feel that this is a failure in the scene itself, but a failure very early on to make a connection with the audience. The film is told in a long continuous flashback a couple of years prior to the opening scenes before rejoining at the end. I felt that being neither a series of flashbacks or a linear story, but rather a hybrid, created a slight disconnection from the audience and caused it to miss out on its full emotional potential.
We had already seen Wilde almost at his worse and hence gave a less sympathetic first impression of the man. I believe that being introduced to Wilde as he first enters exile in the fit, more upbeat state (well upbeat for a man who had been unjustly imprisoned), the audience would've been more able to build a relationship with the character and hence sympathise more in his demise.
The magic of colour and confusion
Colour is something used a lot in films, it can express emotions and can completely change the tone of a film. The Happy Prince uses colour almost perfectly as we witness darkness descend on every scene as Wilde falls further into disorder. Maybe being so apparent that it became noticeable is failing in execution, but I don't feel that the loss in subtlety was a problem and more matched Wilde's character.
In the earlier scenes, I felt confused, the plot seemed hard to follow. It later occurred to me that this may have been a choice, it was a representation of Wilde's mental state at any moment in the film. You fill the confusions of any sickness he may be experienced through the increasingly disjointed and clunky shots and strange dialogue.
Overall, despite its faults, The Happy Prince was a good movie, it won't be a blockbuster and won't be particularly remembered by many, but it does give an interesting insight into a side of Oscar Wilde that does get told very often.
My Score: 7/10
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