I should be heading off to bed, but I’ve just finished watching the 1997 Steven Fry movie about Oscar Wilde. I’d never seen it before, but I noticed it today in the program guide and thought “why not”, especially as it followed a television special called “Happy Birthday Oscar” which, though well intentioned, I thought was a little “forced”.
This on the other-hand was a classic love story, conforming to many of the genre’s conventions. Boy meets boy. Boy loses boy. Boy gets boy again. Actually that’s an oversimplification and offers little to an understanding of one of the most important stories of modern day “gay history”. Arguably, it’s the story of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas that added much to a modern day understanding of gay identity.
But that’s more than you should expect from a movie. The casting of Stephen Fry was inspired. Not only because of the physical comparison, but also because there are aspects of Fry’s life – the depression, the introspection – which leads to obvious comparisons with Wilde.
Contrast that with Jude Law as Bosie. Sometimes I felt that Law always plays Law, much in the same way that Hugh Grant always plays Hugh Grant. I watched Gattaca a few weeks ago (a good movie), and couldn’t help but compare his performances in both. The way he spits anger at Fry is not disimmilar to the way he angrily and drunkingly spits anger at Ethan Hawke in Gattaca. And here was Jude again playing the slightly brooding, petulant English dandy. So when I think about it, yeh, Jude Law was probably perfect as well. There’s a scene, however, where Law sings… flat as a tack!
Although there are some stories on the side, including a scene with Ioan Gruffudd, star of Hornblower, who I was surprised to see turn up in this as an early rival for Law, this is a story of love. Mind you, it was interesting to read that Gruffudd shares a a house with his best friend, Matthew Rhyss in London too.
But the love story is not an easy one. “I do love you Oscar, but variety is the spice of life. You can watch if you like”, declares Bosie, explaining to Oscar why he likes a bit on the side. The film also touches on the age difference. “You’re just a boring middle aged man”, declares Bosie, ahead of a night on the town. Wilde too declares the “Greek nature” of their relationship was more important than something physical. Interestingly enough, however, the physical difference between the two – Oscar is large man, while Bosie is slight – perhaps emphasises the relationship differences.
Did Bosie betray Oscar? The central thesis of the film is that he didn’t and that it was his father who was the main protagonist. Mind you, the dinner scene, where Oscar meets Bosie’s father (played by Tom Wilkinson) is especially good with Oscar and the Marquis getting on quite well together. Contrast this with the following scene with Bosie and his father where they discuss Wilde in what becomes the basis for the legal case, that Wilde is “posing” as a sodomite.
Occasionally the film develops into Victorian melodrama, especially the scene where Vanessa Redgrave appears briefly as Wilde’s mother. Contrast that with the prison scenes – shades of the film 1984 – where the imagery take on a more post-modern sensibility.
But essentially this is a love story of tragic consequence, epitomised by the reading from Wilde…
“Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
Some kill their love when they are young,
And some when they are old;
Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
Some with the hands of Gold:
The kindest use a knife, because
The dead so soon grow cold.
Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.
A classic love story, the film ends with Oscar and Bosie meeting again, though you know it’s not going to work.