"And all men kill the thing they love/ By all let this be heard/ Some do it with a bitter look/ Some with a flattering word/ The coward does it with a kiss/The brave man with a sword!" Oscar Wilde (Rupert Everett)
Because I am a devoted fan of Oscar Wilde, I had to open this review of The Happy Prince with his famous final stanza from The Ballad of Reading Gaol. It's his wisdom for those foolishly thinking love is always benign, and it signals Wilde's own ironic awareness of his complicity in landing for two deadly years in Reading for gross indecency (homosexuality).
The stanza also may allude to the disaster he brought the many he loved, male and female. As his first and final love, Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), declares, "He'll eat you."
The Happy Prince tells of Wilde's last days after his tragic imprisonment; he is subject to taunts even from Parisians, so famous was he round the world. An "exiled fairy" he called himself. Because homosexuality was outlawed in England, it is especially ironic that the once most famous author of the 1890's should be vilified with universal shame.
In 2017 he and other convicted sodomites were pardoned, small comfort to those of us who believe he could have had more greatness like The Importance of Being Earnest and The Ideal Husband to come.
This film carefully chronicles Wilde's self-destructive self-indulgence, living high when he didn't have the funds and returning to the arms of Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas (Colin Morgan), the beautiful young man he loved, whose love cost Wilde the years in jail and everything else. Wilde himself says, "I am my own Judas."
The recurring theme song, "The Boy I Love is Up in the Gallery," resonates with the joy and sorrow he brings to himself. Empathetic director-actor Everett also suffered professionally when he came out at the age of 25. This film, however, should bring him universal acclaim.
That story of Wilde's life is available on film and in biography, but Everett has given us the final period not dramatically and universally enjoyed until now with a fine performance he sharpened from many years playing the doomed wit on stage, set here in Paris, Normandy, and Naples, and set production in Bavaria and Belgium.
This Wilde is disconsolate, weary, and dissolute with not enough of his witticisms and epigrams to my liking. In fact, as seemingly realistic as it is, it is perhaps too gloomy for a general audience. But for literature and art house lovers, it's nectar.
Somewhere in the middle of the film, Wilde says his most famous final words: "I am dying beyond my means. I can't even afford to die. This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go." Wilde is arguably the most quoted author after Shakespeare, and these words show how even death by meningitis can't stop his wit.
BTW: Research his countless epigrams-you'll spend an afternoon in bliss. These are three samples:
"I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability."
"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."
"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."
Dorothy Parker gives the ultimate praise:
"If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it."