Rupert Everett wrote, directed, and starred in The Happy Prince (2018), a film that focuses on Oscar Wilde’s life after serving his two year prison sentence after being found guilty of homosexuality. Everett does much of the heavy lifting in the role of Wilde, but has a solid supporting cast with Emily Watson, Colin Firth, Colin Morgan, and Edwin Thomas. While both Wilde’s fate and sentence are tragic, the film seems a little self-indulgent at times, and the plot structure is a bit too erratic.
The Happy Prince gives some insight to Oscar Wilde, but not in an unforgettable way
The Happy Prince jumps around a bit early in the film and towards the end of it, showing different aspects in Oscar Wilde’s life. However, this non-linear movement ends and settles primarily in the time after getting out of prison. Despite that, there are moments towards the end of his life that then flash back to the period more closely to his release, and then back again. There were moments where this felt a little disorienting…but for the most part, Wilde’s conditions and companies helped to indicate when in his life we were.
I’m not familiar enough with Everett or Wilde to really be able to compare this film to others, but his performance here seemed earnest. There is clearly a passion in the storytelling that Everett wanted to convey, but unfortunately there also wasn’t much in terms of substance. Many of the scenes in the film are simply Wilde ordering Absinth or fooling around with a variety of individuals. Nonetheless, there is a clear sub-plot with the two men that were clearly more than just a fling, but held quite differently by Wilde.
Alfred Bosie Douglas (Morgan) and Robbie Ross (Thomas) were the most interesting parts of this biopic. Both were in some way consumed by Wilde, but one seemed to be using him while the other was supporting him. There is a tragic tale embedded within this love triangle, but it shows up far later than it should have as it seems to be the most compelling aspect of these later years. Of course, the story of Constance Wilde (Watson) doesn’t get nearly enough time as Watson deserves, but her scenes still leave a lasting impression.
By the end of the film, The Happy Prince isn’t a powerhouse of a biopic, but it is serviceable. The performances in the film are strong and worthy of the story being told. Wilde’s life ends so tragically because of injustices he suffered due to when he lived, and it is difficult to not find compelling. Still – I struggled to really feel invested in the film despite the positives, feeling like I’d got the gist of what this film was offering rather early on. The Happy Prince earns the Not a Total Wate of Time rating.