The downbeat biographical drama “The Happy Prince” is clearly a labor of love for Rupert Everett — who directed, wrote the screenplay and portrays his hero, the writer and wit Oscar Wilde. Alas, it’s such a disjointed and depressing tale that others may not feel the love as much.
The film covers the last five years of Wilde’s life, when he had lost many things he held dear — including his wife Constance (Emily Watson), his fortune, his reputation and his home country.
The bad times started in 1895, when he sued the Marquis of Queensbury for libel, for calling him a “sodomite.” Wilde was in a torrid romance with Queensbury’s son, Alfred Bosie Douglas (Colin Morgan), at the time. Queensbury turned the legal case around, and Wilde was convicted for gross indecency — and put in prison for two years for his homosexuality.
After his prison sentence, Wilde abandoned England for France, where he lived in exile. He also lived in poverty, having lost access to his royalties and cut off from his allowance by Constance. Wilde’s friends, notably the author Reginald Turner (Colin Firth) and his manager Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), rally to his side. But they are mystified when Wilde invites the selfish, bratty Bosie, back into his life — a life that Bosie’s thoughtlessness has nearly ruined.
Everett, aided by a ton of prosthetic make-up, labors mightily to capture Wilde as the dissipated, absinthe-guzzling mess that he has become in his final years. He may have succeeded too well, because the performance is so flawless that he shows Wilde as profoundly sad and pathetic — and not someone a viewer would want to sit with for 104 minutes.
And while Everett’s grasp on Wilde’s emotional state is firm, he doesn’t give us much to unravel the feelings of those around him. None in his orbit — Thomas’ Robbie, Firth’s Reggie or Watson’s Constance — are allowed to be more than reflections of the great man, and when that man is revealed to be not so great, their roles are diminished that much more. “The Happy Prince” turns out to be an unhappy experience for all concerned.
‘The Happy Prince’
Opened October 10 in select cities; opens Friday, October 26, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City). Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use. Running time: 104 minutes.