In his directorial debut The Happy Prince, actor Rupert Everett (Another country, My Best Friend’s Wedding, An Ideal Husband) offers a spellbinding, honest and hugely compelling account of a lesser known period in the life of one of the most iconic literally figures of our times. Charting the life of Oscar Wilde shortly after his release from prison on charges of homosexual activity, and all the way up to his untimely death 3 years later, the film offers a rare chance for audiences to reconcile themselves with a life destroyed by prejudice and bigotry, and which culminated in the heartbreaking demise of a man who deserved way more than to live out his final days in abject poverty and squalor.
The year is 1887 and Oscar Wilde (Rupert Everett) is finally free and looking forward to starting afresh away from the stuffiness of London and its treacherous high society. Arriving in France to a warm welcome from his long-suffering friends Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas) and Reggie Turner (Colin Firth), the three are almost jubilant at the prospect of new adventures and writing opportunities. Encouraged by the possibility of being reunited with his wife Constance (Emily Watson) and their two sons, Oscar can’t help but feel optimistic about the future.
Things however take a turn for the shambolic when, no longer able to deny his true nature, Oscar finds himself back in the arms of his handsome former lover Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas (Colin Morgan), whose father was the reason behind Wilde’s imprisonment. Leaving France and all his good intentions behind for a new life in southern Italy, things soon start to unravel for Oscar, culminating in his return to Paris penniless and forced to beg passers-by for drinking money.
Everett presents Wilde as a gently acerbic, lyrical and beautifully disarming figure trying to pick up the pieces from a life shattered by ignorance and hate. In the Paris years, Everett doesn’t hold back on displaying the full horror of what it meant for Wilde to be exiled and in disgrace in a foreign land. His ability to offer Wilde as both gentle and at times deliberately destructive is a testament to his beautifully nuanced performance. We are also treated to a stand out turn from the brilliant Edwin Thomas (Lewis, Endeavour) as the exasperated, yet always sympathetic Robbie Ross and a suitably petulant turn from the always excellent Colin Morgan (Merlin, Testament of Youth) as Bosie.
Overall, Everett offers a beautifully well crafted and hugely compelling account of love and loss which is further elevated by a wickedly sharp dialogue and a beautifully well devised poetic realist narrative. A fitting tribute to a man whose life might have ended in tragedy, but whose memory still lives on in all of us.
The Happy Prince is in cinemas from Friday June 15th.