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Introduction | Variety | Evening Standard | Los Angeles Times

"Wilde life makes for artful pic"

Derek Elley  - Variety (25-31 August 1997)

Big, bold and burnished - "Wilde", is the full Monty on Oscar. Toplining British comedian/wit Stephen Fry in a once-in-a-lifetime role as the brilliant, acerbic playwright, and mounted with a care and affection in all departments that squeezes the most from its $10 million budget, movie is a tony biopic that manages to combine an up front portrayal of the scribe's gayness with an often moving examination of his brooder emotions and artistic ideals. With a good marketing push and critical backing, this offbeat costumer could reap warm rewards as a midstream item, with its appeal cleverly positioned across the sexual spectrum.

Aside from the considerable presence of Wilde look-alike Fry - who has admitted in interviews he was probably born for the part - pic is the first to go the whole enchilada on Wilde's homosexuality, with reasonably forthright, though far from full-frontal, sex scenes replacing the lingering looks by Peter Finch and Robert Morley, respectively in the two 1960 versions, "The Trials of Oscar Wilde" and "Oscar Wilde".

Achievement of the current pic, however, is that it is far from just in-your-face '90s version of the story: Julian Mitchell's script, from the revealing biography by Richard Ellman, equally addresses Wilde's love for his children, the nervousness behind his outward courage as a convention-breaker, as well as his higher, Platonic ideals of beauty and youth. In that respect, there's something for everyone, especially in the handsome wide-screen mounting it gets here.

The signals that this is going to be more than your average Brit. costumer are visible from the outset: Pic opens like an Anthony Mann Western in the mining community of Leadville, Color., in 1882, in the midst of Wilde's yearlong lecture tour of the U.S. and Canada. Incongruous sight of the lumbering writer in the Wild West, where he flirtatiously lectures bare-chested young miners on Socratic Ideals, is a marvellous introduction to Fry's sardonic but sad portrait.

Invigorated by his Stateside experience and still not confronting his sexuality, Wilde marries the beautiful and adoring Constance (Jennifer Ehle, from "Pride and Prejudice"), by whom he has two sons. It's only with the arrival of a gay Canadian house guest, Robbie Ross (Michael Sheen), that Wilde opens the dam of his homosexuality: While Constance is putting their sprig to bed upstairs, Robbie calmly drops his pants in front of Oscar in the drawing room.

As Wilde's career blossoms along with his catalogue of boyfriends, smart Victorian society starts rumbling with innuendoes about the playwright's proclivities. On the more bohemian reaches, however, Wilde is supported by his Irish mom (Vanessa Redgrave) and broadminded friend Ada (Zoe Wanamaker).

Continued..

Introduction | Variety | Evening Standard | Los Angeles Times

Copyright, 1997, Samuelson Entertainment