Actor Rupert Everett’s directorial debut is a moving tribute to Oscar Wilde which doesn’t flinch from tackling a part of Wilde’s life other accounts have shied away from. His last years are depicted in all their decaying splendour.
After his release from jail in 1897 Wilde arrives in northern France with a pseudonym, a new set of luggage and £800 raised by his friends and admirers.
Wilde’s open relationship with the Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas infuriated Bosie’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, and the rest of the ruling class.
He was convicted of “gross indecency” after his attempt to sue the Marquess for libel failed. Same sex relationships were supposed to be shameful secrets hidden away—Wilde was shameless and had to be punished.
He was handed the maximum sentence—two years of hard labour.
During the credits we are reminded that in 2017 the 75,000 men convicted of the “crime” of homosexuality were “pardoned”. The British state should have asked for forgiveness instead—and should have expected to have its request spat back in its face.
One scene is particularly heartbreaking—Wilde is transferred from Wandsworth prison to Reading via public transport. During a half hour changeover at Clapham Junction he is jeered at and spat on.
Everett’s Wilde describes that moment as the worst in his life. “I saw the future—the end of all peace.”
The experience of prison robs him of the ability to write the plays and poems he was lauded for by high society. His wit stays with him until the end though. He describes his time in prison as, “One simply weeps and has diarrhoea. Result—lunacy.”
His masterpiece, De Profundis, was a howl of grief and rage directed at the system that sent him to prison.
We see Wilde’s nasty side as well. He lashes out at loved ones. His behaviour becomes increasingly self-destructive as he is shunned.
That all just adds to the tragedy of a great mind robbed of its creativity by the brutality of the state.
In one scene he and his friends are hounded through a French town by a gang of English homophobes. Wilde confronts them, “The natural habitat of the hypocrite is England! Go there and leave me in peace!”
The Happy Prince, named after a book Wilde wrote for his sons, makes for tragic and beautiful watching.