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The Happy Prince

Written and directed by Rupert Everett

CBC Radio interview with Rupert Everett:

Having devoted a fair slice of his career to bringing Oscar Wilde to life on stage and screen, there was only one actor who could portray the wronged writer in his swansong period in Paris. The Happy Prince finds Rupert Everett not only playing Wilde but directing and writing besides. While the result has its imperfections, the film glows with such tenderness for its subject that all else falls into shadow. This is a love story that is as much about Everett and Wilde as it is Oscar and his nemesis. As we know, only one strand can end happily.

Everett opens with a scene of domestic bliss in which a father is telling the titular story to children tucked up in bed. As the camera moves from the cosy bedroom to the damp alleys of Paris we see that all is not as it seems. We see it, too, in the face of a English tourist who recognises Wilde and pursues him to say hello, her face falling as she takes in his obvious decline. Never one to miss an opportunity, Wilde plays on her pity to cadge a fiver. A broken man he may be after two years hard labour in a British jail, the ultimate consequence of his disastrous decision to sue the Marquis of Queensberry, but he remains a survivor, and one who would rather have a good time with his last fiver than pay the rent.

From Paris in 1900, Everett moves to the past, large parts of it happy, but most of it seeming to lead inexorably to Wilde’s tragic present.

He arrives first in Naples, full of hope and to a welcome from his friends Reggie and Robbie (Colin Firth and Edwin Thomas), who have raised £800 to tide Oscar over while he gets to work again. He has grand plans, among them a reconciliation with his wife (Emily Watson) and two sons, and he will never, he insists, see the cause of his downfall, dear Bosie, again.

Yet there is to be no clean slate for Wilde. It is a case of different country, same Oscar: living beyond his means, taking risks and taking liberties with the affections of his friends. Though Everett’s feelings for his subject are plain, he does not entirely let him off the hook for his failings. “Oscar destroyed himself and everyone around him,” says Constance. Or as Wilde puts it, “I am my own Judas”.

Prejudice, too, has followed Wilde from his home country, rearing its ugliest face in a posse of English “gentlemen” abroad who follow Wilde and his friends to beat them up.

At 59, Everett is 13 years older than Wilde was when he died. Physically, his timing could not be better. He has always had the height; here, padding gives him the writer’s triangular bulk, while that once matinee idol face of Everett’s, framed by a leonine head, has aged naturally into the part. He is a romantic notion of one of literature’s ultimate romantics.

Perhaps because he has been around the material for so long, Everett the writer references Wilde’s work with ease and grace. There is no stagey clearing of the furniture, or the throat, before witticisms are uttered, as is unfortunately often the case with Wilde.

Everett the wit does not forget to deliver laughs along the way, even at the story’s close. He handles Wilde’s death scenes wonderfully, bringing together strands of his work and past to tie his hero’s life up with a bow. We are back in a cosy room, hearing a story, the circle closed. Except Everett has one more thing to relate in the end credits. A footnote to history if you like, but what a footnote, what a life.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Courtesy: Alison Rowat, The Herald (Scotland)




























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Directed by: 
Rupert Everett
Running Time: 
Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Emily Watson
Official site: 
Screenplay by: 
Rupert Everett

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