The Happy Prince

Directed by Rupert Everett Publishing House: Sony Pictures Classics Released: 10.19.18 Review by | October 18, 2018 at 8:30 PM
7

Basically: He wasn’t young enough to know everything or old enough to survive it.

I’ve had a literary crush on Oscar Wilde for a very long time. His quotes. His banter. The turnabout in his plays. One of my favorite quotes, “I’m not young enough to know everything” is his. When most think of Wilde we envision a jaunty gentleman, his hat perched at a stylish angle or the rebellious waves of his hair. In each photo his serene visage seems to conceal a hidden smile because he, of course, knew something we don’t. Very few of us realize he paid for the rebellion of being an out gay man who had the nerve to fight back with his pen.

In 1895 Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor for the crime of “sodomy”. After his release he went into exile in France, where he was unable to escape the humiliation heaped on him by England or the emptiness of his purse. Although he did try. The three years between his release from prison and his death in Paris are the subject of The Happy Prince.

Photo: © 2018 - Sony Pictures Classics

The film truly belongs to two men, Oscar Wilde and Rupert Everett. Everett wrote, directed, and stars as the aging playwright and after the final moments fade you feel like you’ve truly met Wilde. (As though HG Wells took you back in time for a moment with the man and afterwards you come home melancholy yet glad for the experience.) There is such a deep loneliness in Everett’s portrayal. He gives us a Wilde who wears his wit and his fame as armor and once they are stripped away seems to cling to the illusion of them—and we feel it.

The film unfolds in a series of vignettes, backward and forward through various highlights and heartbreaks. In France, Wilde receives a meagre allowance from his wife (Emily Watson). In exchange he’s meant to behave and not to engage in any of that business. But he is irrepressible and Wilde and it leads him into trouble time and again…and he’s led to many lovers as well. No matter how much it costs him the film is telling us Wilde could never be anything other than himself. And for me, it feels right that he kept on being ostentatious until the end, because no one understood him and he kept insisting that they must. The Happy Prince is a tragedy so we know it can’t end well. Even Wilde’s very good friends Reggie Turner (Colin Firth) and Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas) try to slowly but gently disentangle themselves from him so they won’t be subsumed.

Photo: © 2018 - Sony Pictures Classics

Although all the performances are lovely, the spotlight shines on Everett and, for a moment, on Colin Morgan as the seductive wildchild Alfred Bosie Douglas. In one scene, Wilde sits on a train platform in his prison grays, and is mocked and spat on by the Londoners around him. In another, he stands on a table in a French gastropub and enchants everyone with a song, only to take a tumble and badly hurt himself. That’s the scene that encapsulates the entire film. Wilde is transcendent for a moment and then falls so hard. And somehow each time, it’s Douglas who sends
him tumbling.

It’s an exquisitely tender film, seemingly lit by candle light and sunshine, and the flicker of Wilde’s hope to once again be cheered on the stage. Instead he must make do with songs, and friends, and contention…and those could never be enough.

In the End: If you have a love for history and beautifully honest performances then The Happy Prince is one to watch.