If anybody was born to play Oscar Wilde, it must have been Stephen Fry: not only does he look like the Green Carnation Man, but he himself is often portrayed as being too clever, too complex for his own good. Gilbert's film, with an intelligent screenplay by Julian Mitchell based on Richard Ellmann's biography, looks curiously old-fashioned. More lavish than Merchant Ivory, it's a '60s-style Technicolor affair with a grown-up '90s feel. Unlike its predecessors, it's able to be frank about the sexual encounters: with devoted friend Robbie Ross; with rent boys to whom Wilde was indulgently generous; and, fatefully, with the love of his life, the beautiful, wilful, spoilt brat Lord Alfred ('Bosie') Douglas, who didn't fancy Wilde, but saw him as the alternative father to his brutal, bullying pater, the Marquess of Queensberry. As Wilde, descending from would-be-doting husband and father to follower of his own 'nature', and finally ruined and disgraced martyr on the tree of English hypocrisy, Fry is utterly convincing. He speaks the witty lines as if he invented them and manages to square Wilde's weakness and arrogance with his immense generosity of spirit, while his prison cell reunion with dying wife Constance (Ehle) would make a traffic warden cry. The cast oozes real class: Redgrave is superb as Wilde's tigerish Irish mother; Wilkinson suitably revolting as Queensberry; Sheen perfect as Ross; and Law explosively arresting as the capricious, finally destructive Douglas.
Cast and crew