The destitute final years of Oscar Wilde's life are played out in Rupert Everett's honest but shapeless portrait of the Irish playwright
The penniless, broken final years of Oscar Wilde’s life are examined in “The Happy Prince,” an honest-but-shapeless portrait that is more than warts-and-all. It’s all warts.
Rupert Everett writes, directs and stars in this is sideways love letter to Wilde, who was jailed for being a homosexual in 1895 and sentenced to two years of hard labor. The film picks up as the playwright is getting out of jail, facing a world that thinks he’s an abhorrent monster, and trying — and mostly failing — to make ends meet.
That mainly means begging for money from old lovers and acquaintances while reliving past glories in his head. Wilde was a staple of the London social scene, but that all ceased when he was jailed, and "The Happy Prince" traces his life as his flame is reduced to a flicker and he becomes a tragic parody of himself.
Everett, who also played Wilde in 1999's "An Ideal Husband" and 2002's "The Importance of Being Earnest," rounds out the cast with an Avengers-level stable of Brit thesps; Emily Watson plays Wilde’s ex-wife and the mother of his children, Colin Firth is a pal who helps him get back on his feet, and Tom Wilkinson is the priest who presides over his final moments.
Still, a major question lags: Who is “The Happy Prince” for? Literary completists, perhaps, but few others will jump at the chance to wade into these waters. Wilde's rise and his glory are all but shirked here, and Everett's script lacks a dramatic churn to keep things engaging. And while well-acted — Everett, his frame enhanced by body padding, shows Wilde’s wild side, as well as the empty shell left behind by his former life — there’s not enough here to chew on. Everett's labor of love feels rather laborious.
'The Happy Prince'
Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use
Running time: 105 minutes