Perhaps every biopic of Oscar Wilde must over-indulge its subject. Wilde demands to be the centre of attention, after all, and writer-director-star Rupert Everett obliges him.
Aside from flashbacks to happier times, the focus is on Wilde’s final years, following his conviction of ‘gross indecency’ for homosexuality and two-year prison term. Impoverished, he goes into exile in France with only occasional contact with old friends Reggie Turner (Colin Firth) and Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), and his wife (Emily Watson) and two sons far away. Desperately lonely, he forms a surrogate family in Parisian prostitute Jean and his brother, anaesthetising himself with booze, cocaine and young men.
It’s a melancholy film, punctuated with flashes of that famous wit and the heartbreak of the fairy tale from which it takes its name. Colin Morgan’s Bosie, the gorgeous, callous aristocrat who led to Wilde’s downfall, provides a welcome shot of venom when he returns to his side.
It might sound like a vanity project, but for Everett’s absolute commitment to his subject – right down to the paunchy prosthetics he adopts to play him. As a director, Everett is sometimes heavy-handed, but the performances, and the undeniable injustice of Wilde’s ordeal, make for a tragedy worthy of its drama-loving subject.