As a peek into the final period of the life of celebrated writer Oscar Wilde, at least one can say that the new film, The Happy Prince, has more basis in truth than the recent rock biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. I’ll readily admit that’s only faint praise though. Unfortunately, getting the facts right is only one piece of the puzzle in crafting a compelling film. One can have all of the fact checking in the world in place and still miss the mark. Unfortunately, that’s the case with The Happy Prince, a project that had all the ingredients for a compelling film. All of the elements are there but they just never seem to come together in spite of the valiant efforts of all involved.
The film in question is a labor of love for Rupert Everett, an actor whose work has been consistently good over the years. Here he directs, writes and stars. The results are far from being the turgid affair one might anticipate, especially with this being such an obvious vanity project, but you can’t help wondering if maybe the end result might have been more satisfying had Everett not insisted on doing most of the heavy lifting himself. The film’s heavy-handed message could certainly have benefited from a bit more nuance, something of which Everett the filmmaker isn’t quite capable.
Wilde is introduced in the first section of the movie after having served a prison sentence for indecency. The author’s crime, of course, was simply that he was a homosexual at a time when that was not easily accepted by society at large. Saddled with an apparent case of writer’s block that he couldn’t seem to shake, Wilde, according to the film, is forced to roam around Europe leeching off of anyone who will allow him to do so. This may have made for interesting reading but, as a film, it becomes tedious very quickly.
One of the film’s biggest problems is the non-linear structure with which Everett has chosen to tell his tale. While his portrayal of Wilde is quite good and he surrounds himself with such great talent as Colin Firth and Edwin Thomas, there’s just not enough of a sense of urgency that comes across in the telling of the tale. The results are alternately boring and confusing. Admittedly, there is some good stuff in there but you have to look awfully hard to find it and it’s spread way too thin. Whether it’s worth the effort is anyone’s guess.
At press time, The Happy Prince is playing in Charlotte.
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