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Introduction | Variety | Evening Standard | Los Angeles Times

"Full-Blooded 'Wilde' Offers Definitive Portrait of Oscar"

Kevin Thomas  - Los Angeles Times ( 1 May 1998 )

"Wilde" has found a perfect Oscar in the formidably talented Stephen Fry, who brings an uncanny physical resemblance to the Victorian playwright along with a profound grasp of the great wit's psyche.

Coupled with Julian Mitchell's superb script, drawn from Richard Ellmann's landmark biography, and director Brian Gilbert's total commitment to it and to his sterling cast, this deeply moving "Wilde" is likely to remain the definitive screen treatment of Oscar Wilde for years to come. At the same time "Wilde" is a lustrous period piece with a high degree of authenticity in decor and costume.

Fry's Wilde is a big, tall, Irishman with a daunting jaw, large, sensitive eyes and a kindly manner. There is a certain softness within this great looming presence. This Wilde is clearly a brilliant intellectual, a master of paradox who in his all-too-short life would turn some of the most felicitous phrases in the English language. The great thing about this Wilde is that, as beautifully spoken as he is, he does not drip with bon mots every time he opens his mouth. Surely, Wilde didn't speak in epigrams all the time, any more than Dorothy Parker did.

In an inspired opening sequence, we meet Wilde on his famous 1882 American speaking tour. He's just arrived in Leadville, Colo., where he's visiting the Matchless silver mine, (the very one, it would seem, where another celebrated Victorian-era casualty, the once-rich and beautiful Baby Doe Tabor, was found frozen to death in 1935). Once down inside the mine, Wilde is as clearly captivated by the young miners' bare chests as they are about his well-spun tale about the great Renaissance silversmith Benevuto Cellini.

But as Wilde has yet to confront his true sexual nature, he marries and sires two sons, as is expected of him. He loves his wife, Constance (Jennifer Ehle), but his eye keeps roving until at last he's seduced by a young Canadian, Robbie Ross (Michael Sheen), who will be only a passing sexual fancy but remain his staunchest friend.

On the opening night of his play "Lady Windemere's Fan" Wilde is reintroduced to the young Lord Alfred Douglas (Jude Law), whom he had met briefly the year before. He is transfixed by this gilded but deeply troubled youth of the Gilded Age. Lord Alfred, known as Bosie, has the misfortune to be the son of a brutal homophobic tyrant, the marquis of Queensbury (Tom Wilkinson, the boss of the laid-off workers in "The Full Monty").

"Wilde" is above all a love story, and a classic one at that. Here's a man, not unattractive but a bit ungainly, who's hit the threshold of dazzling acclaim and who falls hard for a beautiful young man who's been alternately spoiled and beaten but never loved by his parents. Of course their physical relationship is fleeting, lasting just long enough for Bosie to become the love of Oscar's life - even if it is ultimately to cost Wilde his life.

One of the many strengths of this film is that it gives us a full-dimensioned portrait of the mercurial Bosie, who could be outrageously petulant, cruel and shamelessly exploitative but was intelligent enough to appreciate Wilde's talent (and thereby envy it).

When Wilde surmises that Bosie loves him as much as he could be capable of loving anyone, you suspect he's right. There's another love story too, between Oscar and the devoted, ultimately understanding Constance; in the end Wilde feels great remorse for what he has put his wife and sons through, to the extent that they must change their names and flee the country.

Continued

Introduction | Variety | Evening Standard | Los Angeles Times

Copyright, 1997, Samuelson Entertainment