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{Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde} Wilde
Directed by Brian Gilbert
Starring Stephen Fry, Jude Law, Vanessa Redgrave
Available on video
Review by Michael Cottrell


{Envelope and card bearing play's title} This card was left by the Marquess of Queensberry (Lord Alfred Douglas' father) at Wilde's club in February 1895.

"Wilde", director Brian Gilbert and producers Marc and Peter Samuelson's 1997 movie, has now opened in cinemas and it is superb!

The movie is based on Richard Ellmann's biography, "Oscar Wilde", and the director has not only made the words come alive on screen, but the whole production has reincarnated the man, Oscar Wilde, before your eyes.

{Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde with hat and cane} Stephen Fry, who even out of the actor's role, mirrors Wilde as do the other cast members; Jude Law as Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie"), Jennifer Ehle as the ever-suffering Constance Wilde, veteran actor Vanessa Redgrave as the loving if not eccentric mother, Lady "Speranza" Wilde, Michael Sheen as the ever-loving "Robbie" Ross and Tom Wilkinson, the cantankerous Marquis of Queensberry.

It is this Marquis' card, albeit misspelled, that creates the critical moment in the movie. Wilde is pressured by his lover Bosie, the Marquis' son, to sue Queensberry for libel.

By this point in the movie, it is clear that Lord Alfred Douglas was not interested in Wilde's reputation but wanted his father struck down. Bosie, a youthful man, has lived the life of luxury with a plentiful income coming from an allowance from the Marquis. Bosie, like his father, demands absolute control and will seek to get that control either through coercion or manipulation.

{Bosie, looking disdainful} The card and the demand from Bosie for Wilde to go after the Marquis are pivotal because Wilde now must make a choice. The ever-loving Robbie Ross pleads with Wilde not to follow through with a libel suit. Ross even brings forth the possibility of a counter-attack on Wilde and the dire consequences that would have on the literary genius.

{Queensberry} Wilde is totally smitten with Bosie and chooses the path that Bosie leads.

Oscar Wilde had a passion not only for beauty but also youth and its vitality. Oscar wrote many letters to Bosie speaking of this love.

Savoy Hotel, London

Dearest of all Boys,

Your letter was delightful, red and yellow wine to me; but I am sad and out of sorts. Bosie, you must not make scenes with me. They kill me, they wreck the loveliness of life. I cannot see you, so Greek and gracious, distorted with passion. I cannot listen to your curved lips saying hideous things to me. I would sooner be blackmailed by every rent-boy in London than to have you bitter, unjust, hating.

You are the divine thing I want, the thing of grace and beauty; but I don't know how to do it.

Shall I come to Salisbury? My bill here is 49 pounds for a week. I have also got a new sitting-room over the Thames. Why are you not here, my dear, my wonderful boy? I fear I must leave; no money, no credit, and a heart of lead.

Your own,
OSCAR

Letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, March 1893.

Wilde and his love for Greek imagery and philosophy, continues to play out like a greek tragedy.

The trial begins, and like witnesses, the audience has been brought forward. Not so much to make judgement on the charge of gross indecency (homosexuality) but to seek out who is guilty of this travesty that took place one hundred years ago . Was it the legal system and the society that Wilde so often held up for ridicule in his writings? Or was it his companions, the people who encircled London's star.

Of course the character of Bosie does not fare well. He is selfish, arrogant, rude, conceited and inconsiderate. Bosie is this and only this all through the movie. His character and the relationship he has with Wilde never changed. Bosie is simply Bosie.

Victorian England also was simply Victorian England with its cultural rules and societal mores and it is out of this culture that Wilde developed.

Wilde, in his writings, unsettled many as he jested with the cultural norms and expectation. By heeding Bosie and agreeing to sue Queensberry, Wilde, pushes the card all the way against the culture and the tragedy is that Wilde doesn't have a chance.

There lies a third element of the travesty: Oscar Wilde himself.

If we are masters of our own destiny, Oscar Wilde chose his. This genius, in his midlife, followed a lie. Suing the Marquis of Queensberry for libel was bound to fail because the Marquis' accusations were true. Oscar Wilde was a sodomite. Oscar Wilde did engage in homosexual activities. Oscar Wilde did love intimately the Marquis' son.

What if Oscar Wilde had not listened to Bosie, what would have been the course of his life? One will never know. As the movie unfolds, Wilde is bent on becoming his own greek tragic hero.

The 'Love that dare not speak its name' in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made as the very basis for his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michaelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep, spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art like those of Shakespeare and Michaelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as the 'Love that dare not speak its name', and on account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so the world does not understand. The world mocks at it and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.

Oscar Wilde, at his first trial, 26 April 1895.

The viewing audience is transported back in time through the craft of the screenwriter (JulianMitchell). We hear from Steven Fry, Oscar's actual words of defense. No momentum is lost; two subsequent trials after Wilde lost his suit against Queensberry , suddenly the verdict is decreed and in the historical words of the judge:

IT IS NO USE FOR ME TO ADDRESS YOU. PEOPLE WHO CAN DO THESETHINGS MUST BE DEAD TO ALL SENSE OF SHAME, AND ONE CANNOT HOPETO PRODUCE ANY EFFECT UPON THEM. IT IS THE WORST CASE THAT IHAVE EVER TRIED...THAT YOU, WILDE, HAVE BEEN THE CENTRE OF ACIRCLE OF EXTENSIVE CORRPUTION OF THE MOST HIDEOUS KIND AMONGYOUNG MEN, IT IS EQUALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO DOUBT. I SHALL, UNDERSUCH CIRCUMSTANCES, BE EXPECTED TO PASS THE SEVEREST SENTENCETHAT THE LAW ALLOWS. IN MY JUDGEMENT IT IS TOTALLY INADEQUATEFOR SUCH A CASE AS THIS.

THE SENTENCE OF THE COURT IS THAT YOU BE IMPRISIONED AND KEPTTO HARD LABOR FOR TWO YEARS.

Mr. Justice Wills, pronouncing sentence after Wilde's second trial, 25 May 1895.

What was not captured in the movie was Oscar's last word to Justice Willis following his second trial, 25 May 1895:

"And I?

May I say nothing, my Lord?"

The producers Samuelson say of their film: "We made this film believing that there must be a timewhen the story of a man of wit, charm and courage can finally be told with honesty, and that timeis now."

This film, through its writing, acting, directing, producing, and distributing has one hundred yearsafter Wilde's release from prison, allowed Oscar's voice to be heard. Thank you!

{Wilde's grave} A Reuter telegram from Paris states that OSCAR WILDE died there yesterday afternoon from meningitis. The melancholy end to a career which one promised so well is stated to have come in an obscure hotel in the Latin quarter. Here the once brilliant man of letters was living, exiled from his country and from the society of his countrymen. The verdict that a jury passed upon his conduct at the Old Bailey in May, 1895, destroyed forever his reputation and condemned him to ignoble obscurity for the end of his days. When he had served his sentence of two year's imprisonment, he was broken in health as well as bankrupt in fame and fortune. Death has soon ended what must have been a life of wretchedness and unavailing regret.

Wilde was the son of the late Sir William Wilde, an eminent Irish surgeon. His mother was agraceful writer, both in prose and verse. He had a brilliant career at Oxford, where he took a first-class both in classical moderations and in Lit. Hum., and also won the Newdigate Prize for English verse for a poem on Ravenna. Even before he left the University in 1878 Wilde had become known as one of the most affected of the professors of the aesthetic craze, and for several years it was as the typical aesthete that he kept himself before the notice of the public. At the same time he was a man of far greater originality and power of mind than many of the apostles of aestheticism. As his Oxford career showed, he had undoubted talents in many directions, talents which might have been brought to fruition had it not been for his craving after notoriety. He was known as a poet of graceful diction; later on as a playwright of skill and subtle humour. A novel of his, "The Picture of Dorian Gray," attracted much attention, and his sayings passed from mouth to mouth as those of one of the professed wits of the age. When he became a dramatist his plays had all the characteristics of his conversations. His first piece, "Lady Windermere's Fan", was produced in 1892. "A Woman of No Importance" followed in 1893. "An Ideal Husband" and "The Importance of Being Earnest" were both running at the time of his disappearance from English life. All these pieces had the same qualities -- a paradoxical humour and a perverted outlook on life being the most prominent. They were packed with witty sayings, and the author's cleverness gave him at once a position in the dramatic world. The revelations of the criminal trial in 1895 naturally made them impossible for some years. Recently, however, one of them was revived, though not at a West End theater.

After his release in 1897, Wilde published "The Ballad of Reading Gaol," a poem of considerable but unequal power. He also appeared in print as a critic of our prison system, against the results of which he entered a passionate protest. For the last three years he has lived abroad. It is stated on the authority of the Dublin Evening Mail that he was recently received into the Roman Catholic Church. Mrs. Oscar Wilde died not long ago, leaving two children.

Wilde's obituary in The Times (London),

December 1900.




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