Dorian Gray: set visit
Next week sees Ben Barnes and Colin Firth come to our screens in a new version of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'. Dave Calhoun visits the set of the film in the East End
Finlay is telling me what he and his more seasoned collaborators are doing to turn this well-known book, which charts the adoption and corruption of young noble Dorian Gray (Ben Barnes) by the more worldly Lord Henry Wotton (Colin Firth), into a film that will work for a modern audience. Most radically, they have shifted the time period of the story forward so that instead of culminating in around 1890 – the year Wilde first published the story in Lippincott’s magazine – the film ends in the era of World War I. The hope is that Dorian’s lack of ageing will be even more disturbing and strange if he remains a Victorian in an Edwardian era of cars and women’s suffrage. The filmmakers have also invented a new character, Emily (Rebecca Hall), the daughter of Lord Henry and a potential redemptive love interest for Dorian.
|Barnes and Parker on set|
Thompson knows that Wilde purists will be watching the results closely. ‘One is always going to be criticised. But when you’re developing the script, there’s a point when you reach a nice, literary adaptation and then you have to make a further leap into a movie to make it more visceral and cinematic. Most people know the myth of Dorian Gray. So it was about making the myth come alive as a proper gothic horror, which is what it always felt like it should be.’
The myth, as Thompson calls it, has already partly left the book behind. There have been numerous television, movie and stage versions, and just this July, Matthew Bourne’s modern dance version was back at Sadler’s Wells. While many are familiar with the idea of a portrait that ages horribly while its subject remains youthful, fewer will be aware of the lengthy debates about art and beauty that pepper Wilde’s book and so presumably won’t miss them when they don’t appear in the film. Thompson shrugs when I mention the more heady ideas in the novel. ‘These conceptual ideas fascinate Wilde, but in a movie they’re very difficult to pull off.’
|Ben Barnes stars in 'Dorian Gray'|
While youth is a key theme of the story, it’s also a subject on the minds of the film’s makers, who hope to attract a younger audience. Which would explain the casting of Ben Barnes as Dorian, the pretty young actor best known to fans of the ‘Narnia’ films. ‘I think Ben will be a proper movie star; he’s very good-looking,’ says Thompson, before adding, 'I think he’s a good actor, too.’
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