From Sony Pictures Classics
Directed by Brian Gilbert
How did Wilde elbow its way into my top 50 favorite films? Easy, really. It's English period stuff, it's biography and it's gay-themed. It may be among the least famous of all my favorites and likely one of the least seen. It brings me great pleasure then to bring it to your attention.
Wilde is the story of Oscar Wilde (Fry), the celebrated English poet/novelist/essayist/playwright of such classics as The Importance of Being Earnest (earnest, believe it or not, meaning gay in its day), An Ideal Husband, Lady Windemere's Fan and The Picture of Dorian Gray, among others.
He was quite witty, charming, sophisticated and a bit of a fop. He was also ahead of his time. He was married to a woman (Ehle) he apparently quite loved. She felt the same and provided him with two sons. He regarded her as a modern woman (in the Victorian age, no less), strong and opinionated. She was also willing to divert her eyes from the fact that Oscar was gay.
He had his first gay affair with a family friend, Robbie Ross, (Sheen). He was soon madly in love and carrying on a rather open relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (Law), a petulant, arrogant, moody, little wise-ass, known to all as Bosie. He rather strung along the sweet-natured Wilde and drove him to distraction with his taunts and mixed messages, although he did love Oscar in his fashion. While their relationship lasted in one form or another for almost 10 years, sex didn't play an important role for too long. Bosie was handsome and sexy and very popular with the boys while Oscar was tall and a bit plump and long-haired and as embarrassing to Bosie as he was handy to have around.
Wilde was born in 1854 and died in 1900. This was not a good time to be gay in England. In fact, it was against the law. Staying in the closet was a wise decision but not one that Wilde completely embraced. His flamboyance was particularly detrimental to him given his immense fame at the time. He would recklessly fraternize with rent boys at all-male clubs, have public rows with Bosie and generally laugh off any negative press about himself. He likely thought he was above the fray and that any presumed indiscretions would be overlooked.
|The real Oscar and Bosie|
The spoiled Bosie was at odds with his father, the Marquess of Queensbury (Wilkinson), a brute of a cold and unloving man, who seemed to hate his son. Unfortunately he learned to hate Wilde more. The father publicly accused Wilde and his son of being sodomites. Through Bosie's coaxing, who wanted to exert revenge on his old man, Wilde sued the Marquess for libel. He thought the trial would be a slam dunk. He couldn't have been more wrong. The prosecution, in turn, was able to produce witnesses who testified to Wilde's homosexuality. He famously said "there was no sin except stupidity." There were those who thought he underestimated the Marquess and the law. Wilde lost his case and was imprisoned for two years, subject to much hard labor. His health suffered greatly as did his spirit. After his release he moved to Paris where he died three years later, broke and broken.
He also said that "in this world there are two tragedies. One is not getting what you want and the other is getting it." He was besotted with Bosie, who, for the most part, played him, and Wilde took leave of the good sense he had. It indeed turned out to be a tragedy.
What is not a tragedy in any way, shape or form, is this superb film. Stephen Fry is a revelation as Oscar Wilde. He looks a great deal like him, speaks with the same wit and intelligence and just happens to also be gay. Actor and character are inseparable to me now and forever more. Wilde was Fry's first starring role, I believe, and it helped that we were not so aware of who he was at the time of the film's release.
The same could be said of Jude Law. Before 1997 he had only made two theatrical films. In 1997 he made the gay-themed Bent (although his character was not gay) and also Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (where he was gay). It was a gay year for the actor and he gave Bosie all the unsympathetic traits that were so vital for this character.
North Carolina-born Jennifer Ehle was excellent as Constance Wilde... a tribute to the actress who takes to English roles as easily as an English spaniel takes to water. Tom Wilkinson amazes me when he inhabits sinister roles. I suspect he is a genuinely nice bloke.
The film got an R rating because of the lusty, all-male sex scenes of which there are several.
I had read the 1987 biography Wilde by Richard Ellman and loved it. It was exciting knowing this film was based on that work. After seeing the film, I read Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas, by Douglas Murray in 2000. Both books sit on my shelves to this day.
And so does this film. It shouldn't be a great stretch to see that I would quite like a biographical film on a famous homosexual. This is one of the finest. Take a peek.
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