Oscar Wilde’s only published novel The Picture of Dorian Gray is tricky to adapt cinematically, requiring a deft balance between its sparkling wit and the Faustian darkness at its core. As the author himself wrote, ‘man sees his own sins in Dorian, what Dorian’s sins are, no one knows.’
Yet one of the main problems in this version by director Oliver Parker (St Trinian’s, The Importance of Being Earnest) and screenwriter Toby Finlay is that the protagonist’s moral transgressions are spelt out in a rather literal manner, and the trips to various opium houses, prostitutes and orgies and the seduction of a teenage virgin and her mother seem less than shocking.
In the title role, Ben Barnes is credible as the naive newcomer in London society who comes under the influence of the worldly Lord Wooton (Colin Firth) and who is so impressed by the portrait created by Basil (Ben Chaplin) that he wishes for his youth and beauty to be preserved forever. Barnes, however, is less convincing in conveying his character’s descent into murderous despair, and Rebecca Hall is underutilised as Dorian’s suffragette lover.
Parker et al effectively use symbolic objects – keys, mirrors, a cigarette case – in their efforts to deliver a Gothic thriller, but the musical score is often overblown, the cinematography more polished than genuinely atmospheric and the effects-laden climax disappoints.
Out now on general release.