Film Contemplation: The Happy Prince (2018) Film Review
'Never wish, madam. It might come true. But thank you... for a moments harmony in a discordant fugue.'
The Happy Prince chronicles the final years of renowned poet and playwright Oscar Wilde's life. The film captures the universal theme of an extraordinarily successful life being bent by time and regrets. Director Rupert Everett has made him as humane as any ordinary man just with a chronic dose of grief, torment, and regrets.
The opening credits help the layman get acquainted with the trials Wilde faced as his whirlwind romance and subsequent ostracism by the society is explained. The Happy Prince then begins with a few ambiguous scenes where the legendary poet renders the eponymous tale of the happy prince to his kids. It is juxtaposed with an old, seemingly out-of-his depths Wilde loitering on the streets. While his time at the top has brought him all this agony, it also helps him receive a few pounds from one of his loyal fans. Like a grouchy geezer living on bootstrapped money from week to week, he goes around the French towns making merry of his recent income. That involves taking two young brothers, cash-strapped like him, out for a few drinks and hiring the services of the elder one. A couple of arguments later, we witness Wilde's conspicuous talent as he sings 'The boy I love is up in the gallery' for an adulated audience. A quick flashback takes us to his time at the top, where its the upper class crowd that is hoodwinked into Wilde's cogent antics.
It is a well known fact that Everett had an equally daunting task in getting the film made and his efforts are there for all to see
These are two of the most powerful scenes in the film. Aided by dazzling wide-shots and breathtaking cinematography, it highlights the opportunity missed here. If only the rest of the film was as magnetic and soulful as these parts, this would have been an altogether greater achievement. Everett, however, chooses to focus on the moral dilemmas faced by Wilde as he slips further into the pit of remorse. It is a praiseworthy fact, but what would Lincoln (2012) be without the title character being embroiled in political mess and the ensuing civil war?
The Happy Prince then goes on detailing his cold and troubled relationship with Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, and warm and loving one with his admirer and benefactor, Robbie. The former is a sneaky high-born, enjoying a fling with a fallen personality till he moves on to greener pastures. The latter on the other hand is Wilde's literary executor taking care of him meticulously. However, as is the case in life, Wilde fails to notice Bosie's lack of empathy towards him and risks losing everything for what he believes is love. What follows is more travails and tribulations.
Also starring as the title character, Everett gives a hauntingly beautiful performance in a role that requires as much gravitas as a mournful perspective. He appears larger than life in one frame while being completely decimated in another. It is a well known fact that he had an equally daunting task in getting the film made and his efforts are there for all to see. It is quite surprising that his performance has flown under the radar, especially in a year when Rami Malek is winning accolades for his respectable portrayal in the critically panned (yet commercially blazing) Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). Colin Morgan and Edwin Thomas play Lord Bosie and Robbie Ross respectively and are likeable. Like every third good British film, Colin Firth pops up here as Reggie, one the few characters who seek to help Wilde out of his predicament. He doesn't have much screen time but manages to leave an affectionate mark.
If only the rest of the film was as magnetic and soulful as these parts, this would have been an altogether greater achievement
The filmmakers are wholly committed in bringing Oscar Wilde's story to the screen. The Happy Prince is a character study of a imaginative soul unshackling itself beyond the boundaries laid by the society only to be expelled from it. The trauma makes him believe that whatever disobedience he displayed was wrong and deserved punsihment. The film is honest and avoids all the baits usually deployed by filmmaker's in trying to sensationalize a character's hardships. The tale of the happy prince is symbolic of Wilde's journey as both theses men are adored by society during their shining times but are thrown out in less than a fraction of second as the luster wears out. While two hours might not be suffice to depict his eventful personal and professional life, the film succeeds in highlighting the roller coaster ride that was the life of one of the greatest literary giants.
'There is no mystery so great as suffering.'