One of the key elements in the portrayal of Wilde on screen is a side of his character that is often overlooked - his devotion to his wife, Constance and his sons Cyril and Vyvyan. In Vyvyan Holland's book Son Of Oscar Wilde, he describes his father as being enchanting, mending his son's toys and telling them stories.
Oscar's marriage to Constance was extremely important to him. According to Julian Mitchell, "the story of their relationship is something which I think would have to have been made very black-and-white in the old days. Now we can show far more of the shades. She's a very sympathetic character and she did her best to behave very, very well, although hundreds of people around her were telling her she should just cut him off.
"I think that one forgets how much of a male society it was. The sexes were much more separate than today. Oscar used to tell Constance what she should wear. He sort of invented her -he got her involved in dress reform and in various women's organisations. But it was a very male society - a sort of club society - and when men went off together, nobody took much notice. You had given your wife two kids - what more could she ask? And in the upper classes all you had to do, if you were a woman, was to give your husband two legitimate male children."
Jennifer Ehle admires the woman she plays: "I think that Constance's story bears testament to her strength of character -her strength as a person. She refused to run for cover when things got rough and she showed great patience, forbearance and loyalty during the times when Oscar started to spend more and more time away.
"She had great belief in him. He had some prospects when they married, but in no way was his future assured. But she believed in him and I think she believed him to be a genius. I do think there was something in her that wanted to attach herself to somebody that she could almost live vicariously through. As a woman in those days you couldn't stand on your own and be successful. To have a successful husband was quite a wonderful and valid ambition. She was very, very bright and loved Oscar a great deal."
But wasn't he famously homosexual? "In our approach to the film we have to make our own choices as to how much she may have suspected or known about homosexuality, let alone suspecting her husband of practising it. It was no different to her than having a suspicion that he was seeing another woman, but when the horror of the truth hit, she was very brave." "How much Constance knew and how much she wanted to know really isn't clear," says Mitchell. "To me, the really scandalous thing is that Robbie Ross seduced Wilde in his own house when Constance was being extremely nice to him. That was a monstrous breach of good manners!"
Stephen Fry hopes that people will gain a sense of Oscar's kindness and generosity from the film, as well as the importance to him of his family, despite his apparent neglect of them. "Yes, he did that, in the same way that in a heterosexual marriage people abandon their wives. They adulterise, but it doesn't mean that they don't love their wife and children. He didn't abandon them in the sense of leaving them, he was imprisoned. His wife died and her relatives insisted through a lawyer that he wouldn't be allowed to see his children again. And that was the single thing that broke his heart in the whole catastrophe. "He didn't abandon them in any real sense, except that of the betrayal of adultery that goes on every day. We all have friends who have not been honest to their wives or husbands. We don't damn them to the inner circle of Hell for it, we understand that people do that. It's perfectly possible to have an affair with another woman or another man and still to love your children.
"Oscar was not a professional homosexual - the word didn't even exist until André Gide started using it as a noun rather than an adjective - and Oscar's love for his wife and children was absolute. To some that may seem rather odd - 'people should be seen to be either one thing or the other' - But the film takes a more complex and realistic view."
Copyright, 1997, Samuelson Entertainment