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The Happy Prince **

There’s a bit too much going on with the timeline, and the dialog is too poetic for its own good, but Wilde fans may find it appealing. 

Is it worth $10? No 

The long, painful fall from grace after enjoying immense success must be an awfully difficult cross to bear. Add in a lack of acceptance of one's sexual preferences and you have Oscar Wilde in "The Happy Prince," a stylish but stilted look at the author/playwright's final years.

The film is a passion project for writer/director/star Rupert Everett, who waited ten years to get it made. It's his directorial debut and first foray as a screenwriter, and his ambition is obvious to a fault. The timeline jumps unnecessarily when a linear structure would suffice, some of the dialog is too poetic for its own good, and Everett chews scenery and then some as Wilde. Reel it in a bit, Rupert, and the end result would be much better.

It starts in 1890 London, and then jumps to 1900 Paris before settling back in 1897 Dieppe, which is on the coast of France. The background provided in the opening titles, and reiterated a few scenes later, shares that the wonderfully successful Wilde went to prison 1895 for “gross indecency,” i.e. homosexuality, which was illegal in England at the time. Upon getting out he goes to Dieppe, assumes the name Sebastian Melmoth, meets up with old friends Robbie (Edwin Thomas) and Reggie (Colin Firth), and hopes to one day see his wife (Emily Watson) and two children, not to mention his lover, Bosie Douglas (Colin Morgan). His goal is to lead a “pure” life, and to write again. But old habits die hard, and with him unable to suppress his homosexual desires, it’s not long until he’s a social outcast.

For as great as Wilde’s life was prior to prison, it’s equally as awful afterward. At least, we think that’s the case. There’s no real sense of his pre-prison success, which means those not familiar with Wilde’s work may wonder why we’re supposed to care about this oddball vagabond. What’s more, he’s occasionally obnoxious and certainly pretentious, which means he’s sometimes difficult to find sympathetic. As depicted by Everett, Wilde is a drunk, a louse, and stubborn, understandably bitter about his lost career and incapable of finding a way to get it back. The more his self-defeating tendencies emerge, the harder it is to feel for him, which makes a sad story even sadder.

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If, as a director, Everett gave the film more visual flare, and/or wrote a sharper script, it would’ve been more watchable. Alas, the color palette is notably dark, and the dialog mixes real talk with Wilde’s verse (and prose). When asked if he’d like to buy flowers, Wilde responds, “Snowdrops. The frozen tears of God.” What? It’s snowing outside, but it’s also the oddest way to say “yes” to buying flowers that you’ll ever see.

Sadly, as the film progresses you realize if Wilde lived today he would be out and proud and appreciated. It’s ironic that a writer so gifted at poking fun at the establishment could never truly fit into said establishment; on the contrary, it banishes him upon learning he’s homosexual, with no interest in forgiveness or opportunity for a comeback. Oh but for the times in which we live.

Did you know?
1) Everett and Firth appeared in “The Importance of Being Earnest” (2002), an adaptation of one of Wilde’s most renowned plays. 2) “The Happy Prince” is also the name of a short story Wilde published in 1888.

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