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Introduction | Variety | Evening Standard | Los Angeles Times

"Stephen Fry's Oscar winning performance"

Alexander Walker  - Evening Standard ( 10 June 1997-10-23 )

October 16, the date of Oscar Wilde's birth 143 years ago, has been chosen for the West End premiere of the new film about the poet, playwright and homosexual martyr to Victorian moral values and English social hypocrisy. But well before then, the long-awaited movie Wilde, which has just had its first screening privately in London, will have set the town talking.

Two things can be said immediately about people's reaction. Marc Samuelson's sumptuous period production, written by Julian Mitchell and directed by Brian Gilbert, provides us with rehabilitation and a revelation. The rehabilitation is that of Stephen Fry. The truant stage actor here returns to the top of the class with a dominating screen performance. His Oscar Wilde is the emotional and intellectual ballast in the story of a man who has the world at his command, but whose tragedy is his inability to command himself.

The revelation that the film offers is Fry's co-star Jude Law, playing Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde's amour fatal and the nemesis who provokes his lover into mounting the ill-fated libel action against the Marquess of Queensberry, Douglas's father, that rebounds and leads to the two years' hard labour passed on Wilde for sodomy.

The film ties this pair of players together in a love knot that eventually comes to resemble a suicide noose for one of them.

Fry's presence is monumental. Visibly pounds heavier, with a jawline like the proud prow of a ship, his hair waved and worn insolently longer than even contemporary photographs record, Fry's Wilde is a credible combination of physical strength and moral weakness. No languid fop popping with epigrams, or sounding like a one-man show entitled The Wit and Folly of Oscar Wilde, he is recognisably a man of the period and carries total conviction.

The movie opens with brilliant unexpectedness. We expect to see rough trade on the West End pavements. Instead we get rough-riders on horseback, firing guns and whooping it up at the gallop in the Wild West. You couldn't have invented a better calling card for this British production's reception in America - or a more accurate one. For in 1882 Wilde visited Colorado on a speaking tour of the US and went down a silver mine to baptise the precious seam named after him and tell the miners: "I hope to collect the royalties".

Fry charms these hairy toilers and casts an appreciative eye over the near naked, more personable younger ones while lecturing them on Benvenuto Cellini, the Renaissance artist in previous metals whose sideline probably included several murders. "Did he shoot 'em?" one son of Silverado eagerly enquires.


Introduction | Variety | Evening Standard | Los Angeles Times

Copyright, 1997, Samuelson Entertainment