Berlinale: The Happy Prince

The Happy Prince
The Happy Prince
Directed by Rupert Everett
Starring Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Colin Morgan, Edwin Thomas, Emily Watson and Tom Wilkinson

by Marko Domazet

Lying in a cheap hotel room with nasty wallpaper, Oscar Wilde opens up the floodgates to old memories and we come along for the journey in The Happy Prince. The story in not told in a chronological order and mostly focuses on the period after Wilde’s release from prison. During this time, Wilde was shunned by most of his acquaintances, didn’t produce any new work and lived in a destructive love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. The two travelled across Southern Europe like penniless vagabonds with Wilde sinking deeper and deeper into an emotional abyss that, alongside with his fast way of living, would eventually catch up with him.

Wilde is in many ways the role that Everett was born to play. With the help of some tremendous prosthetics, an excellent way of delivering one-liners, and an even better one at casting disapproving glances at others, I dare say Everett embodies Wilde better than any other actor of his generation. He also brings a tremendous amount of sadness and tenderness to the character, in a very Wilde fashion. I mean, who else would provide a male escort with cocaine and absinthe and then take the time to tell said escort’s baby brother a bedtime story. Those flamboyancies aside, Everett does also showcase the more gut-wrenching moments of Wide’s life – not being able to see his sons, being spat on whilst as a prisoner waiting to board a train at Clapham Junction, being recognized and chased by a homophobic crowd, and perhaps saddest of all, not having the strength to run away from destructive love affairs. Everett delivers a multifaceted portrayal and has a great ability to switch from extreme sadness to delivering a killer line.

The structure of the narrative is also well thought out, and even those not familiar with Wilde’s story, will be able to keep up with the timeline jumping back and forth. It’s clever to confine the story to the latter, sadder part of Wilde’s life – only allowing fleeting glances at happier times packs a harder punch. The supporting cast put in solid performances, notably Edwin Thomas, whose loving and supportive ways offer a nice counterbalance to the gloom and selfishness of everyone else. Colin Firth, as expected, is very good too, but it is a shame that Emily Watson is so underused in the role of Wilde’s estranged wife. I mean, the internal drama that must have gone on between the two of them would warrant a film on its own.

The Happy Prince is clearly a passion project for Everett, and as such, one can see there might have been difficulties with editing. Granted, this is a story about Oscar Wilde, but it would have been even more solid, had the focus been allowed to shift a bit more on some of the supporting characters. All of them had intimate relationships with Wilde, and getting more access to their thoughts (as opposed to actions when they’re around Wilde) would have cast an interesting light on the playwright and how he was perceived. Still, this is a very good film that does a fine job in portraying a dying man’s self-exploration at the end of his life. It does leave a lot of questions (and would perhaps have made a great TV series), but it strikes a beautiful balance between a razor sharp public character and a sensitive man who took a great pleasure in devising and telling stories.


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