Review – Wilde biopic ‘The Happy Prince’ features a great performance, and little else

Poster for 2018 Oscar Wilde biopic The Happy Prince

Genre: Drama
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 15th June 2018
Runtime: 103 minutes
Director: Rupert Everett
Writer: Rupert Everett
Starring: Rupert Everett, Colin Morgan, Colin Firth, Edwin Thomas, Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson
Synopsis: After he is released following his jail sentence for homosexuality, an ageing Oscar Wilde tries to get his life back on track in France despite illness and an increasing lack of money.

 

 

Films that are sold as passion projects can go either way. Sometimes, the affection of a filmmaker or actor for their subject matter can lead to movies as indisputably brilliant as Rocky or Citizen Kane but, equally often, this level of adoration blinkers the person behind the movie and you end up with Battlefield Earth. Lying somewhere in between those pillars is The Happy Prince, which sees Rupert Everett in front of the camera as legendary writer Oscar Wilde and behind it as both writer and director of the story, which follows Wilde in his final years.

The film introduces Wilde as a washed-up, decrepit old man who has been robbed of all creativity and will to live after spending time in prison for homosexuality. He reconnects with friend Reggie (Colin Firth) and former lover Robbie (Edwin Thomas), as well as writing to Bosie Douglas (Colin Morgan), with whom he was in a relationship prior to his imprisonment. His days in France, though, are blighted by financial difficulties and the ongoing growth of the illness that would ultimately lead to his death.

This movie is all about Everett, and his performance as Wilde is a powerhouse one. He delivers blasts of the author’s trademark wit (“I’m in mortal combat this wallpaper”) with an acidic charm and completely disappears into the role, admittedly with the help of some hefty prosthetics. His mammoth turn dominates The Happy Prince and, in particular, his death scene is an indulgent affair that spans at least 15 minutes of screen time and allows Everett to ham it up like an over-stocked butcher’s counter as he slowly fades away for what seems like forever.

Pacing is very much a problem across the board. Despite the rather limited timeframe depicted in the movie, the baggy running time leads to a story that is often entirely dramatically inert. The dialogue is exceptionally on the nose and scenes seem to drag for twice as long as they need to, as if there wasn’t anybody over Everett’s shoulder to encourage him to be a little more brutal and willing to kill his darlings to keep the movie going forward at a reasonable rate. It’s a strange comparison to make, but this has the lack of discipline of an Oscar Wilde biopic directed by Quentin Tarantino. That’s an odd one to imagine.

There’s plenty to enjoy about Wilde’s work in front of the camera throughout The Happy Prince, but the filmmaking simply isn’t up to scratch. This is a film that largely focuses on people talking in rooms, but there’s never any visual dynamism to make that any more exciting and the dialogue simply isn’t well-written enough to hold the attention of the audience – not least in the face of some seriously drab performances from the supporting cast. The Happy Prince is laudable as a filmmaker and actor putting his passion right up on screen, but it stumbles as a piece of cinematic craft.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Poop!

Rupert Everett deserves a round of applause for almost single-handedly getting The Happy Prince made and delivering an all-encompassing delight of a central performance, capturing the essence of Oscar Wilde very clearly and with obvious reverence. The movie as a whole, however, lacks much of the energy that Everett brings to his performance.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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