The Happy Prince is a Heartbreaking Portrait of a Gay Icon
Last week a friend hooked me up with tickets to a BAFTA screening of The Happy Prince followed by a Q&A with Rupert Everett in London (attached below). So it was high society film critics, gays in turtlenecks and me and my friend raiding the complimentary snacks.
The Happy Prince follows Oscar Wilde in his final years in France, Italy and England as he reflects on a life of lovers, debauchery and writing. Everett wrote, directed and stars as Wilde in this portrait of a flawed artist who is punished for his sexuality. Upon his release from prison, Wilde is exiled to France under a new name, where he attempts to reconcile with his estranged wife, Constance (Emily Watson) by correspondence. But against better judgment and warnings from his devoted friend Robbie (Edwin Thomas), Wilde gets back together with his former lover, Bosie (Colin Morgan). Long story short, Bosie screws him over. Formerly the most famous man in London, Wilde now lives in squalor, surviving off favours from the few friends he has left. It’s a heartbreaking look at a literary icon whose only crime was living authentically.
Everett portrays Wilde’s tragic final years as comparable to the crucifixion of Christ. It’s a bleak, slow film told mostly in flashbacks and surrealist dreams. Even after serving time in prison and moving to France, Wilde is harassed in the streets. Because he runs back into Bosie’s arms, Constance stops Wilde’s allowance and refuses to let him see his children. To add insult to injury, Bosie ultimately leaves him for fear of getting cut off from his fortune. Wilde is dealt blow after blow, with little reprieve from his suffering. This is not to say he was an angel. Everett is upfront about the author’s vices, from binge drinking to pushing away those closest to him.
Although Wilde’s guilt and tenderness for Constance is key to the story, she seems weirdly detached from the rest of the film. Save for a dream he has about her, they don’t have any scenes together. We only see her discussing his finances and caring for the children. She feels almost like a throwaway character, except for a great scene where she’s bouncing the kids on her lap while Wilde’s in Italy having an orgy.
The film is sometimes hard to follow because it feels so abstract. Although it makes sense that Everett takes liberties with the narrative. It seems only fitting for an artist as whimsical as Wilde.
I've attached a video of the Q&A and the trailer below. Sorry the video's so shaky. I was literally filming on my phone with one hand for over 20 minutes. You can watch me ask a question at 8:41.
Header image credit: Lionsgate