The Happy Prince

Pasatiempo - - ON THE COVER - The Happy Prince, The Happy Prince

a ti­tle steeped in irony, picks up Os­car Wilde (Ru­pert Everett) at the low­est and fi­nal ebb of a life that be­gan in bril­liance, soared into glit­ter­ing celebrity and ac­com­plish­ment, foundered in mis­judg­ment, and ended in mis­ery. We dis­cover the hulk­ing, sham­bling fig­ure of the great writer stum­bling through the streets of Paris, des­ti­tute and ill. And yet, in a brief assig­na­tion in a squalid room with a young French boy for hire, he is able to say, “I have never been hap­pier in my life than I am at this mo­ment.”

The mo­ment rules Wilde. He knows bet­ter — on his re­lease from his two-year stretch at hard la­bor for “gross in­de­cency,” he tells his friends Rob­bie Ross (Ed­win Thomas) and Reg­gie Turner (Colin Firth) that he will never again see the lover who caused his down­fall, Lord Al­fred “Bosie” Dou­glas (Colin Mor­gan). But he is a slave to his im­pulses, and soon Os­car and Bosie are in one an­other’s arms again, Wilde’s wife Con­stance (Emily Watson) has cut off his al­lowance, and the writer is sucked deeper into his down­ward spiral.

The movie, writ­ten and di­rected by Everett, is dense with at­mos­phere and a lit­tle dizzy when it comes to con­ti­nu­ity, as it skips about in time and place to scat­ter flash­backs along the road to ruin. Some of these can be a lit­tle ham-handed, but for the most part, Everett suc­ceeds in cre­at­ing an im­pres­sion­is­tic can­vas of his man’s de­cline and mem­o­ries. And he man­ages to slip in a few clas­sic Wildean quotes, such as “I am dy­ing be­yond my means,” and the fa­bled crack about the wall­pa­per around his deathbed.

It’s as an ac­tor that Everett truly daz­zles. His evo­ca­tion of Wilde is noth­ing less than su­perb. He takes us through a few brief glimpses of Wilde be­fore the fall, and into the gath­er­ing pesti­lence of poverty and dis­ease, the heav­i­ness of body and spirit, that shaped him (here with the help of some ex­pert pros­thetic makeup) as he lum­bered to­ward death. And through it all, Wilde’s in­domitable wit and sar­donic bril­liance pierce the en­croach­ing fog.

shares its ti­tle with a Wilde chil­dren’s story that this movie weaves in as a some­times cum­ber­some but still touch­ing nar­ra­tive metaphor. Early on, we see him telling it as bed­time fare to his two lit­tle sons, and later as a Scheheraza­dian tale spun out in in­stall­ments to two Parisian street kids. It’s a story of self­less­ness and sac­ri­fice, not qual­i­ties one nec­es­sar­ily as­so­ciates with the great Os­car.

The movie is a wor­thy trib­ute to one of the greats of English lit­er­a­ture, and a timely, cau­tion­ary re­minder of the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects of big­otry on an in­di­vid­ual, and a cul­ture. — Jonathan Richards

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