December 20, 2010

Queer Review: Wilde (1997)

Oscar Wilde (Stephen Fry), the writer, poet, and playwright, is best known for his wit and humorous sayings. Wilde the movie biopic starring Stephen Fry, presents Oscar Wilde's life as he finds fame and love with other men. The problem though, is that "homosexual behavior" was considered a perversion in Victorian England and he finds himself persecuted for the mere act of loving another man.

The film has a few problems with accuracy. For instance, it portrays Wilde as being a rather devoted family man and therefore torn between his wife and children and his gay lifestyle. However, the historical record indicates that he was not a deeply committed husband or involved father to his two sons - at least not to the degree that the movie portrays him as being.

However, in spite of a few flaws, the movie is an enjoyable diversion. The earlier portions of the film showcase Wilde's witty quotes and pithy humor. Proceedings become increasingly depressing and dreary though, as the authorities close in and Wilde finds himself facing imprisonment and other harsh penalties for his "crimes".

This is an unquestionably an actors movie, with many strong performances and nary a weak one in the bunch. Stephen Fry is his usual charming self, playing the man who wrote Dorian Grey and The Importance of Being Earnest. Jude Law has the hardest role, which he pulls off admirably, as Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglass. Bosie was Wilde's deepest love, and at least as portrayed here, was also the charming yet immature son of the Marquees of Queensbury (Tom Wilkinson). Jude manages the difficult task of playing someone who is essentially a jerk, yet still showing a side of the character that would have caused Wilde's passionate obsession for Bosie. Excellent support is also provided by the likes of Vanessa Redgrave, Michael Sheen, and Jennifer Ehle.

As I mentioned earlier, there are minor flaws with the film, in addition to the historical inaccuracies, the fairy tale The Selfish Giant is overused as a parallel allegory for Wilde's life - every time Stephen Fry starts reciting passages via a voicover from it, I found myself zoning out. These complaints, however, amount to little more than minor quibles. The film brings a fascinating historical individual to life, and I can easily recommend it for anyone who might want to know more about one of the most brilliant and influential writers of the Victorian era.

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