Cast: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Colin Morgan, Emily Watson
Director: Rupert Everett
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: The last days of Oscar Wilde — and the ghosts that haunted them — are vividly evoked in Rupert Everett’s directorial debut. Everett gives a career defining performance as Wilde, physically and emotionally embodying the literary genius as he lives out his last days in exile in Europe. His body ailing and heavy, his mind spinning, he survives by falling back on the flamboyant irony and brilliant wit that defined him. As the film travels through Wilde’s final act and journeys through England, France and Italy, desire and loyalty face off, the transience of lust is laid bare, and the true riches of love are revealed.
One of the things that makes a biopic stand out is when you become completely immersed in the world of the character and have a high level of emotional attachment to them as they go through their struggles. While The Happy Prince certainly has a captivating story led by a strong lead performance from Everett, the main thing it lacks is the ability to emotionally connect with the audience. Everett was far and away the best part of the movie, but at no point did I ever feel like this movie had anything unique to say. This is a shame, because with the amount of talented people who worked on this project, it could have ended up as one of those great independent films that no one really watches.
The film follows Oscar Wilde (Everett) while he is exiled to Europe following his prison sentence for sodomy and indecency during a homosexual relationship with Bosie (Morgan), a young man who comes from wealth and power. Wilde must adapt to life away from everyone he loved and also to his financial issues now that his main source of income has been removed. The thing that makes this movie work are the performances, specifically from Everett, Firth, and Morgan. Everett does a good job of setting the tone of Wilde’s situation and how he handles the stress of being exiled, and he does more than his fair share of work carrying the film. While Firth and Morgan are in more of supporting roles, they do a fantastic job of contributing to the story and showcasing their individual talents. Firth owns every role he signs up for, and this case is no different as he plays one of the few platonic friends that Wilde had in his life and it shows the true level of love that these two have without ever needing to be romantic. Morgan on the other hand, shows just how much you can hate a character and the decisions he made. Bosie is an arrogant, pompous status seeker and his rivalry with Firth’s character over the course of the movie is somewhat interesting and shows us the inner workings of Wilde’s mind and his emotional state. While the acting is more than acceptable, the main issue the film faces is that the story is just so dry for a person who was so interesting. While I recognize that what happened to Wilde is absolutely terrible, at no point did I ever really care about the story. The focus is predominantly about how Wilde needs money to pay off his debts and how he has a difficult time forming relationships after his time at prison, and what could have been an interesting story ended up boring me to tears. I am not the most familiar with Wilde’s work or life, and I believe this movie will probably do better with audiences in Europe where he is more popular. I think there is potential for a good movie here, and since this is Everett’s directorial debut, at some point I think he can iron out a movie like this and make it great.
Overall, while the acting is more than impressive, the fact that at multiple times I was just begging for the movie to end is what is keeping The Happy Prince as just a decent film instead of a great film. I think Everett’s background as an actor and the fact that he is directing himself in this film are the catalysts behind these strong performances, but I think Everett needs to spend a little more time in the writing room. Fortunately, Everett will get another opportunity at some point in the future, and I have full confidence that he will make the most of it.
Overall Score: 6/10