“The Happy Prince”: Skips The Happy and Goes for the Gloom of Wilde

The Happy Prince is a fairy story about Oscar Wilde (Rupert Everett) in the last sad years of his life. Rupert Everett, both actor and director here, knows Oscar bait when he sees it, and the story of an exiled homosexual writer, bankrupt financially, emotionally and creatively, in the last miserable throws of succumbing to meningitis and abandoned by his lover, hits all the Academy sympathy buttons.

Everett’s Wilde speaks French grandly, creates flowery stories that enchant the locals and dandily dies embarrassed, dishonored and unloved except for a small coterie of loyalist and admirers.

The Happy Prince is stately, well shot, and edited with precision. It’s also a lovely bore, a Death in Venice poseur given a little Visconti sheen, hoping that it will be memorable in the dying light.

The film just gets dark, floating by on pathos and occasionally hitting some good dying rage poetry and tragic moments. Both Wilde and Everett can’t avoid succumbing to their more self destructive impulses.

The shape of Wilde’s last days has a Shakespearean grandeur and Everett plays him with all his formidable bard training on display. This ten year passion project of Everett plays like one of Shakespeare’s sadder sonnets. It is an oxymoronic fitting-ill fitting tribute to a good playwright who immodestly saw some of the Bard in himself.

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