The Happy Prince (4 stars)

The Happy Prince

Courageous Oscar Wilde biopic, written, directed by and starring a sensational Rupert Everett

Rupert Everett is sensational as he sinks his teeth into the role of a lifetime – that of Oscar Wilde – with the flamboyant star inhabiting the literary icon at his ignominious end. The Happy Prince also marks Everett's debut as writer-director and he proves accomplished at both, taking a far from rose-tinted look at an amply analysed figure.

Named after Wilde's short story for children, which he tells over the course of proceedings, the writer emerges from the darkness of his disgrace by gaslight and candle-flame – an aesthetic simultaneously warm and seedy. The tone is sympathetic and The Happy Prince captures all the sadness of a fallen star; the despicable way Wilde is treated by the public and criminal justice system alike elicit considerable compassion.

Yet the film offers a surprisingly and courageously unflattering portrait of Wilde's post-prison existence in France and Italy. His treatment is unforgivable but he's undone by his own weakness; striking up a friendship with two urchins he extracts sexual favours from the elder, while playing avuncular storyteller to the younger. And, although prone to grandiose pronouncements of strength ('Suffering is nothing when there is love. Love is everything.'), he is nevertheless mired in self-pity, venting his anger on those who love him the most.

Colin Firth and Emily Watson are well-cast but underused as Wilde's pal Reggie Turner and his estranged wife Constance. And, if Edwin Thomas never really embodies the tragic yearning and inveterate disappointment of the devoted Robbie Ross, who sustains Wilde in his darkest days, Colin Morgan makes for a suitably capricious, vain and infuriating Bosie, who sends the writer over the cliff-edge. But make no mistake, it's Everett's show; as he lets us see the spark behind Wilde's sorrow, he ensures you have no need to look any where else.

General release from Fri 15 Jun.

The Happy Prince

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • Germany / Belgium / UK / Italy
  • 1h 45min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Rupert Everett
  • Cast: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Emily Watson
  • UK release: 15 June 2018

The tale of the last days of Oscar Wilde (Everett), as he lives out his post-prison existence in France and Italy. If Firth and Watson are underused as pal Reggie Turner and wife Constance, they’re well-cast, and Everett himself, in his accomplished directorial debut, is sensational as the fallen star. A surprising and…