116 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, May 8, 1998
Directed by Brian Gilbert
Starring Stephen Fry, Jude Law, Vanessa Redgave, Jennifer Ehle & Tom Wilkinson
Fry pleasant and saucy in intelligent, charming Oscar Wilde bio
There are two problems with "Wilde," the modest Oscar Wilde biography starring Stephen Fry as the famous, infamous and flamboyant gay playwright with a celebrated deadly wit.
The first is the kissing. While there's quite a bit of it -- Wilde kissing his lover, the lover kissing other boyfriends, Wilde kissing his wife, etc. -- not a single smooch is the slightest bit convincing or romantic. Apparently everyone known to Oscar Wilde was a sloppy, dispassionate kisser.
The second is that while the film is largely concerned with the effects of Wilde's homosexual lifestyle on his career and the lives of those that loved him, it almost completely overlooks his wife and how she feels about the whole thing.
Having said that, "Wilde" is nonetheless an exceptional biography, a film with as much intelligence and charm as the rare man it pays homage to.
Fry, a British actor recognized in the U.S. only as a comedian (if he is recognized at all), plays Wilde with honest, earnest emotions and wonderfully droll posturing. In his hands, Wilde is a perpetually but pleasantly smirking fellow with a saucy perspective on life, a topic he tries not to take too seriously.
Director Brian Gilbert ("Tom and Viv") presents Wilde's career as secondary in his heart to the pursuit of happiness. The film captures his insightful genius with only a few direct references to his plays (in one scene he makes a curtain call congratulating a enthusiastic audience on their good taste).
Instead, "Wilde" focuses on Oscar's passionate and doomed affair with Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas (Jude Law, "Gattaca"), a dashing, moody, well-to-do student who flaunted their affair, pushed Wilde into Victorian London's promiscuous gay underground and eventually got him embroiled in a libel suit that exposed his homosexuality and lead to his imprisonment for two years.
The narrative in "Wilde" takes the occasional humongous leap (his eldest son ages eight years in about four minutes of screen time), but much of this rushing is just to get to the good bits -- Wilde's opulent, elegant observations on life ("Give a man a mask and he'll tell you the truth") and his ashamed but seemingly involuntary selfishness.
Ironically melodramatic, visually lavish and refreshingly direct about the sex, "Wilde" is a noteworthy character study about one of literature's great characters.