The Happy Prince review: Rupert Everett makes his directorial debut with this portrait of Oscar Wilde in his final days.

The Happy Prince review by Paul Heath.

The Happy Prince review
The Happy Prince review

Focussing on the final three years of Oscar Wilde’s life, The Happy Prince is the directorial debut of seasoned British actor Rupert Everett, who also writes and performs as the iconic writer,.

Clearly taking its name from Wilde’s collection of children’s stories, ‘The Happy Prince and Other Tales’, Everett’s film is an absolute marvel. The picture, clearly a passion project for the star of such films as My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Next Big Thing and St. Trinian’s – but let’s not forget An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest – is a flashy, very stylised affair, but also one with depth and glowing adoration for its subject matter from the outset.

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It is 1897 and Wilde has just been released from prison, the writer previously sentenced to two years hard labour for charges of sodomy and gross indecency. Everett constructs his impressive screenplay in a non-linear fashion, flashbacks often employed to look back at his famous heyday, audiences applauding his works on stage, while also focussing about the later, less fortunate years when he was treading the streets of Paris begging for money, which is where our story is largely set. We see him arrive in France, exiled away from the preying British public – we see s another flashback  set at London’s Clapham Junction, Wilde en route to Reading prison from Wandsworth, the writer recognised and cruelly maligned by waiting passengers. It is here where contact is made with friends from the past – notably Colin Firth’s Reggie Turner, and former lover Robert “Robbie” Ross (Edwin Thomas) and then later Wilde’s immaculate lover Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas (a dashing Colin Morgan), a former flame that Wilde has been told he will have his limited allowance from his estranged wife Constance (Emily Watson) cut off should he ever make contact again.

The Happy Prince review
The Happy Prince review

We flit through other key events from those final years. We see how Wilde didn’t quite manage to escape the hostility even on the continent, the writer clearly shaken by torturous pursuits from young men playing cricket on the beaches of northern France, all of the way through to the perhaps even more agonising times of loneliness in his final months in the country’s capital.

Everett paints a perfect portrait of the artist in the very impressive debut, the movie large in scale and ambition, but he must be most applauded for his performance as Wilde, the actor almost unrecognisable in the role – yes, those striking good looks are nowhere to be seen under the prosthetics and glorious make-up – this even rivals the job done on Gary Oldman’s Churchill in his sure-fire Oscar-winning turn in Darkest Hour.

The Happy Prince review
The Happy Prince review

Other positive elements include the astounding, almost dream-like cinematography from John Conroy, whose employs the use of unconventional camera moves and uses of light and flares to paint his gorgeous cinematic pictures. Then there’s Gabriel Lared’s stunning score, an elegant accompaniment to the striking imagery.

Everett’s directing debut is a revelation, a well-honed and fitting tribute to Wilde’s final days. It’s absolutely astonishing that the debutante put in this kind of performance as well as write and direct and such a film of this scale on his first outing. That alone should be applauded, but with  the added gravitas of fleeting extended cameos from the likes of Miranda Richardson, Anna Chancellor and Tom Wilkinson, the latter showing up as the Irish priest who reads Wilde his last rites, as well as the solid star power of Firth, an assembled ensemble of multi-national technical support and an unrelenting vision from its puppeteer in Everett, The Happy Prince was something of a delight.

The Happy Prince review by Paul Heath, February 2018.

The Happy Prince is awaiting a UK release. It was reviewed at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival.

The Happy Prince