Everett is all wit and pathos as Britain’s most famous reprobate

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Happy Prince

Opens Friday 16
3.5 out of 5

Oscar Wilde has two superb impersonators: Stephen Fry and Rupert Everett. I saw the latter on stage in The Judas Kiss. His performance was committed, yet distant, perfect for a figure who could put on a show at a moment’s notice, but few managed to truly meet.

The Happy Prince overlaps with The Judas Kiss, but Everett approaches Wilde differently here. The film revolves around the playwright’s final years after his release from jail in 1897 to his ignominious death in Paris three years later. His intention to reconcile with his wife (Emily Watson) and write a new play are quickly tossed when he reunites with his much younger lover, Bosie (Colin Morgan), the reason he ended up behind bars in the first place.

Not one to take other people’s advice, Wilde’s descent into oblivion is fueled by alcohol, cocaine and his inability to quit the spoiled and toxic Bosie. Despite his reputation, a couple of friends stick with him until the end, testament to Oscar’s wit and ability to entertain even at his lowest point.

The Happy Prince is an unapologetic character study, one that breaks through Wilde’s façade to reveal a man in turmoil, aware of his flaws, but unable to help himself. His preferred excuse — what’s the point of living if not truthfully — is a lovely thought, but difficult to embrace in light of his actions.

By all accounts a passion project, Everett (who also wrote and directed the film) got a few friends to lend a hand — Watson, Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson — and succeeded at making this low-budget production look far larger. Testament to his love for the material, The Happy Prince is a fascinating, poignant affair. One that never would’ve seen the light of day in the hands of a studio.