The Happy Prince is a biographical film about Oscar Wilde, and specifically covers the period other films on Wilde skip over: his last few years post-prison in Naples and eventually in Paris, where he would die penniless and disgraced. Rupert Everett does an Orson Welles by writing, starring in, directing and producing the film with this, his first film behind the camera. Everett had played Wilde on stage in the play Judas’ Kiss, which covers some of the same period but has a different take on material. He wrote The Happy Prince around a decade ago, partly because he wanted another great film role.
The film basically depicts the decline of a great man. After his affair with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas became public knowledge following a ridiculous attempt to sue for libel, which in turn incriminated Wilde for “gross indecency” (a.k.a. being gay), the author and playwright would spend two years in prison under incredibly harsh conditions. He would write his last and arguably his greatest work, De Profundis, during that time and would also renew his Catholicism, but mixed with an individualist anarchist outlook on life. When he was released in 1887 Wilde instantly went into exile, and spent any money he had on drink (absinthe was a particular favourite of his) and male prostitutes. He would be dead of meningitis by the 30th of November 1900.
Everett really shines in the role, and through a mixture of prosthetics and a fat suit pulls off this iconic role—many felt that Stephen Fry’s take was the ultimate portrayal. Everett was willing to show the tragic, almost Christ-like figure Wilde would become during those last few years warts and all. He also gets the truly rebellious nature of Wilde down very well. Everett always has a bit of edge to him, which he rarely gets the chance to display in the roles he plays, and this gives him some opportunities despite the fact that it’s still obviously a wiggy period drama.
The supporting cast is basically a who’s who of British acting talent, so Everett certainly called in favours from some of his famous friends. Emily Watson plays Wilde’s long-suffering wife Constance Lloyd, and Colin Firth plays Reggie Turner, who was in Wilde’s inner circle and helped him out financially at times. Colin Morgan plays Bosie, and gets the proto-Fascist charm he must have exhibited—you get why Wilde was attracted to him, and also why the same guy would spend the rest of his time trying to dismantle Wilde’s life and becoming involved with earliest sparks of British fascism. You could certainly make a case that Bosie was the Milo Yiannopoulos of his day. Edwin Thomas plays Robbie Ross, who was Wilde’s friend and sometimes lover, and who would later be his literary executor. Tom Wilkinson also appears in a great cameo near the end of the film.
It’s not a perfect film by any means, but Everett’s performance and help from his friends in the supporting cast really elevate it, even if the absinthe-soaked fractured narrative doesn’t always work. It could’ve probably used an outside director to helm the film so Everett could just concentrate on his great performance, but it’s a part of Oscar Wilde’s story that is rarely depicted. and perhaps the most interesting and tragic. The film also uses some flashbacks to his fame in London, and most effectively includes a harrowing scene of Wilde waiting for the train to go to prison as a crowd gathers around hurling abuse and spitting at him.
The disc includes only one feature: one of those making-ofs that is just a glorified trailer.