THE HAPPY PRINCE

★★

WHIMSICAL WILDE’S WOEFUL WASHOUT

FESTIVAL FEATURE
By Brent Davidson
17th March 2019

'The Happy Prince' details the later half of the life of illustrious British playwright Oscar Wilde, following him into his exile to Europe after being convicted as a sodomite and serving two years of prison as a sentence. Now this is not the Oscar Wilde we know - charming and funny, clever and outrageous. This Oscar Wilde has faced the reality of his situation and is, though still brilliant, much more subdued.

I don't think Rupert Everett makes any secret of the fact he loves Oscar Wilde. He's gone full Kevin Costner and written, directed and stars in 'The Happy Prince', and though at times it's charming, feels a little bit fan fiction-y. It's an interesting time in Wilde's life to examine; after the fame and notoriety, what happens to the once-grand man. However, if you don't know too much about Wilde's previous life, you arrive at a time where things might be a bit confusing. It's not entirely unfollowable, but it's definitely not your average "start from nothing, rise to fame" biopic.

'THE HAPPY PRINCE' TRAILER

As you'd expect with a BBC period piece, the cream of the British crop appears in 'The Happy Prince' with Colin Firth, Emily Watson and Colin Morgan supporting Everett. It's clearly all about Wilde, and thusly Everett, who's performance is up to standard, but there is just not the spark that pushes it into masterpiece.

It really ends up feeling like a slightly higher budget made-for-TV movie.

We are living in the golden age of TV, and perhaps 'The Happy Prince' would have benefitted from the longer format and the ability to really give us the full details of Wilde's rise and fall. I found at times the cinematography to be quite jarring. I completely understand trying to capture a sense of live performance and the stage, but sadly there is something that becomes inauthentic with the way the camera moves. This, coupled with the sometimes slapped-together editing, makes for a less coherent visual experience than is warranted.

It really ends up feeling like a slightly higher budget made-for-TV movie.

The cultural importance of the film can not be overlooked either. Wilde is a beacon of queer culture, and to have been actively sentenced for his sexuality is something that a younger generation cannot begin to fathom. Having spent two years in prison for his "crimes" and falling so far from grace, he was never the same person. This persecution is something that should never be forgotten, and is a reminder that even those considered elite were not exempt from such scrutinies.

Clearly a passion project for Everett, 'The Happy Prince' is a faithful approximation of the last dark days of Oscar Wilde's life. Whether or not you can dedicate a couple of hours to your life to it or not is another thing, but if you were my grandmother on a Sunday afternoon and this was on the ABC, I guarantee she'd watch it and afterwards say "Well, that was lovely."*

* Full disclosure - she would have likely slept through most of it, but this is less about the film and more about the woman.

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