Rupert Everett has been tirelessly trying to make The Happy Prince for the past ten years. He secured Colin Firth and Emily Watson early on, which helped in shopping his sharp script around to different studios. While waiting for finances to pull through, he mastered his brilliant cinematic performance by playing Oscar Wilde on stage for two years. Every delay and effort put forth in making this film a reality worked in his favor. As a result of his patience and persistence, Everett has artfully crafted an entertaining, illuminating and movingly melancholy portrait of Wilde’s last chapter in life.
Unlike other Oscar Wilde bio-pics, The Happy Prince chronicles the time after his enragingly unjust imprisonment for homosexuality. He has bitterly fallen from grace and is rudely persecuted by aristocrats who were once bewitched by every cheeky turn of phrase that fell from his lips. You would think two years of hard labor and literally being spat on would be punishment enough, but society is not satisfied with the penance Wilde painstakingly served. With the help of his loyal and loving friends, Reggie Turner (Firth) and Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), he tries living in luxury and anonymity. Sadly, his notoriety is difficult to escape.
“You would think two years of hard labor and literally being spat on would be enough, but society is not satisfied…”
Much like Wilde himself, this film has balls and speaks the revered, yet flawed artist’s truth. Everett does not hold anything back or make Wilde out to be a martyr. Instead, we see Wilde lamentingly admit to having wronged those who loved him most dearly. However, this acknowledgment does not deter him from succumbing to his lustful desires.
Wilde’s devoted, ashamed and crippled wife, Constance (Watson), agreed to pay her husband a weekly allowance on one condition: he can never associate with Alfred Bosie Douglas (Colin Morgan) – the young man responsible for his downfall. Of course, Wilde resumes his scandalous affair with the selfish, opportunistic and bratty aristocrat. Bosie was his forbidden fruit, equally succulent and damning. History inevitably repeats itself. Their luxurious affair bitterly ends, much to Wilde’s disappointment.
Everett cleverly frames the film’s narrative with Wilde’s titular short story. The tale of The Happy Prince parallels the author’s life to some degree. Both the artist and the prince sacrificed themselves for a greater purpose, with the help of an incredibly faithful friend. The children’s story acts as a thoughtful thread pulling through the film’s tapestry. Everett beautifully juxtaposes scenes of Wilde telling the story to his sons before his imprisonment to now sharing his work with a street boy he frequently “visits” and his curious little brother. It is a poetic and heartbreaking sight.
“…Everett was born to tell the tumultuous story of a kindred spirit.”
The entire cast delivers spellbinding and award-worthy performances. Firth melts your heart with the way Reggie lovingly looks upon his languishing friend. Thomas is exceptional in his first major film role. He grippingly captures Robbie’s anguish and heartbreak as he desperately tries saving the masochistic man he unrequitedly loves. Watson’s Constance is sympathetic and strong. She perseveres against adversity and protects her innocent children. Morgan is mesmerizing as Wilde’s foppish, toxic and superficial lover. Bosie looks eerily similar to Tom Cruise’s Lestat in Interview with a Vampire. Perhaps this appearance is intentional because Bosie acted like a manipulative vampire, selfishly sucking the money, reputation, emotion, and, ultimately, life out of Wilde.
As for Everett, this is surely the performance of his lifetime. He displays a brave vulnerability in Wilde’s weakest moments when he uncontrollably weeps on his lover’s shoulder. He spent years studying the mindset and persona of this larger-than-life icon. Everett looks at home in this role and breathes new life into Wilde. The Happy Prince proves that Rupert Everett was born to tell the tumultuous story of a kindred spirit. Oscar Wilde would be proud.
The Happy Prince (2018) Written and directed by Rupert Everett. Starring Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Emily Watson, Colin Morgan, Edwin Thomas, and Tom Wilkinson.
9 out of 10 stars