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(1998) (Stephen Fry, Jude Law) (R)

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Drama: Famed novelist and playwright Oscar Wilde's experimentation with his own homosexuality puts a strain on his family, career, and eventually his life.
In 1883, novelist Oscar Wilde (STEPHEN FRY) returns to London after touring North America, marries Constance Lloyd (JENNIFER EHLE), and they eventually have two children. With a sharp wit, flamboyant lifestyle and disregard for the norms, Oscar becomes well known as his career takes off. Yet one evening, Robert Ross (MICHAEL SHEEN), a young Canadian house guest, seduces Oscar and brings his long dormant and repressed homosexual feelings to the forefront. From that moment, Oscar explores his newfound sexuality, and in doing so, neglects his wife and children for long periods of time in the intervening years.

After the opening of one of his plays, Oscar is reintroduced to a young Oxford student, Lord Alfred Douglas, nicknamed "Bosie" (JUDE LAW). The two are immediately attracted to one another and they begin a passionate but stormy relationship. Bosie's estranged father, the Marquess of Queensberry (TOM WILKINSON), however, upon learning of this relationship, sets out to do whatever he can to stop it.

When Bosie's father leaves a card at Oscar's club labeling him as a sodomite, Bosie, who can't stand his father for the past abuse he committed, persuades Oscar to sue the Marquess for libel. Not one to back down from a fight and sensing that it's the right thing to do, Oscar agrees despite nearly everyone else's objections, although his mother, Lady Speranza Wilde (VANESSA REDGRAVE) says that she'll support him as long as he doesn't flee the country. As the court case proceeds, however, Oscar's reputation and lifestyle are put on the line as the possibility of his sexual preferences might be exposed in a time when being a known homosexual could ruin one's life.

It's not very likely.
For strong sexuality and language.
  • STEPHEN FRY plays novelist and playwright Oscar Wilde, an intellectual with a desire to shake up the norms who pursues younger men for both sex and what he calls "Greek platonic love" (a tutor/student relationship). He also neglects his wife and children for long stretches of time while off with his young male lovers and companions.
  • JUDE LAW plays a rich and spoiled homosexual man who becomes Wilde's lover.
  • JENNIFER EHLE plays Oscar's "stand by your man" wife who must contend with her husband's newfound attraction to men and long absences from home.
  • TOM WILKINSON plays Bosie's cruel father who takes it upon himself to end the relationship between his son and Oscar no matter the involved cost or effort.


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    After achieving artistic and critical success with his 1994 film, "Tom And Viv" (about T.S. Eliot), director Brian Gilbert has decided to continue with literary giants as his subject matter in his latest release, "Wilde." Based on Richard Ellman's acclaimed biography of novelist and playwright Oscar Wilde, this film is certain to open a few eyes with its portrayal of this gifted, but notoriously flamboyant man.

    While I was familiar with Wilde's works, such as his famous play, "The Importance Of Being Earnest," I must honestly say I didn't know much about this man. Assuming the film to be at least partially accurate in its recounting of his career and life, evidently there was a great deal I didn't know. The biggest eye opener, for those not already familiar with the playwright's life, is that Wilde had a certain thing for young, "pretty" men and, when not sleeping with them, saw them as moldable objects he could form and tutor as he pleased.

    That said, there are several rather graphic homosexual encounters that may be a bit much for many mainstream moviegoers, and it's surprising that Gilbert has taken this approach. Beyond the material's obvious exploitive nature, there's a very interesting and compelling story about an even more compelling man. The fact that those sex scenes are so vividly shown will no doubt raise many eyebrows and may cause some to vigorously oppose this film, all of which is too bad.

    Although many will have moral and/or personal objections to the film's realistic portrayal of homosexual relationships, that material will cloud a decent and certainly interesting film buried underneath all of the hoopla. As in any film explicitly showing any sort of sexual relationships, there's usually no real reason to do so other than for the sensationalism. To be fair, I suppose it's possible that Gilbert could be trying to shock today's more forgiving mainstream audiences into feeling the way the late 19th century populace would have simply after hearing of such behavior.

    While scandal will always sell more tickets than a story simply about a person's life, it would have been nice to see Gilbert pursue a more balanced approach to Wilde's life. Obviously his sexual preferences led to his eventual downfall, but one can only imagine there was much more to this man than his bedroom behavior. The attention paid to sex, love, and commitment, however, does allow us to focus in on that part of Wilde's shattered life. Not only do we see his homosexual flings and relationships, but also the toll his long absences took on his family that he apparently loved very much. Even so, and for whatever reasons the filmmakers' chose to focus so much time on Wilde's sexual life and preferences, I personally think it was the wrong decision as it will only hurt the film in the end.

    Nevertheless, it's still quite an interesting story. Perhaps the first big celebrity scandal in history, the story predated Fatty Arbuckle, Marilyn Monroe, and of course O.J., although the press obviously didn't yield as much power back then, but the "facts" still got around. While the film effectively deals with scandal, sexual "witch hunts," gilt, repression and the like, it's most impressive element is an outstanding performance from Stephen Fry (of the hit UK TV show, "Jives And Wooster") as the title character.

    Fry portrays Wilde as an understated flamboyant type incapable of backing down from controversy that he's stirred up, as well as a man of great wit and learned intelligence. When several younger men try to blackmail Wilde with one of his previously written and potentially damaging love letters and claim they've been offered a high price for it, Wilde calmly tells them that they should take the money as even he's never been offered so much for so little prose. In another moment he claims, "I felt like the sorbet after a side of beef" as he refers to speaking in a theater the day after two men were hanged there.

    Equipped with the best written dialogue in the film (from screenwriter Julian Mitchell and based on the earlier mentioned autobiography), Fry takes what he's given and delivers the best performance of his career. A mixture of guilt, repression, understated arrogance and boatloads of charm, Fry is completely believable as the famed playwright and creates a complex and sympathetic character, no matter how you feel about his sexual preferences. After seeing this film, whenever you hear the name Oscar Wilde, you'll immediately visualize Stephen Fry.

    Other performances are quite good as well, with Jude Law ("Gattaca," "Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil") standing out as Wilde's spoiled and ravenous young lover. Although he isn't much of a likeable character, Law completely inhabits him and creates an interesting, fully developed fellow. Tom Wilkinson ("The Full Monty," "The Ghost And The Darkness"), as Bosie's tenaciously despicable father, also delivers a good, but certainly not likeable character. The rest of the supporting cast is admirable with Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave as Wilde's mother, Jennifer Ehle as his devoted, but heartsick wife, and Michael Sheen as Wilde's first male lover and lifelong defender and friend.

    Beyond the film's explicit sexuality, there are a few other shortcomings that somewhat diminish the story's impact. The biggest concerns Wilde's sudden turn to homosexuality. While the film gives an early tease of this change Oscar fondly looks at a sweaty and shirtless silver mine worker while touring America his sudden encounter with Robbie is quite surprising. Although the younger man states that its time for Oscar to accept what he's been suppressing for so long, the scene is not only "shocking" for straight moviegoers, but it somewhat comes out of the blue for everyone. While not a horrible plot problem, it probably would have worked better had the filmmakers given us a little more foreshadowing, especially considering that up until that point Wilde seems happily married and has two kids.

    The other somewhat unbelievable factor is that all of these well educated, attractive young men are attracted themselves to Wilde. While I'm no Brad Pitt myself, Stephen Fry isn't a person most would consider greatly attractive as an older man and thus there's the question of what these young men see in him. Although there's the factor of fame, Wilde is repeatedly shown to be near constantly broke and with an apparent plethora of other gay, young men around, it's not quite clear why they come to him.

    Featuring a haunting score by composer Debbie Wiseman ("Tom And Viv"), "Wilde" is an always compelling and often sobering look at the life of a man challenged by the conventions of his time. Although Fry delivers what could be an Oscar nominated performance, the film's blatantly vivid and realistic portrayal of homosexual encounters will probably keep this film from ever completely taking off. That's too bad because the sexual material will probably overshadow the unique and interesting little film residing underneath all of it. We give "Wilde" a 6 out of 10.

    The film's often graphic portrayal of homosexual sex and love will obviously disturb many parents. We see several sexual encounters that include movement, sounds and nudity as well as kissing. Profanity is heavy with 6 uses of the "f" word and there are many scenes involving tense family moments. While it's doubtful many kids will want to see this film, you should take a look through the content should someone in your home wish to see it.

  • Oscar drinks throughout the movie, while we occasionally see Bosie and Robbie drinking.
  • We also see Bosie's father drink, as well as Constance, and others drink at a club and at a play's reception.
  • None.
  • Much of whether you'll decide this film has a lot or a little of such attitudes rests on your opinion of homosexuality.
  • Some may see Oscar and his penchant for young men as having both. Likewise, they might not like him saying that there's no such thing as morality or immorality in thought. He definitely neglects his family and leaves them for long periods of time.
  • Bosie is something of a spoiled brat and tells Oscar that he's going to leave after he gets tired of Oscar's ways, and he won't take care of Oscar when he has the flu.
  • Bosie's father has both for the alleged way he treated his kids and wife in the past, and some may see his behavior to stop the relationship between his son and Oscar as having both.
  • A man asks Oscar if a man he's telling a story about "is a WOP.
  • Some young men try to blackmail Oscar with one of his previous gay love letters.
  • Oscar and Bosie both lie about their behavior during a court trial.
  • None.
  • Pistols: Fired by several men into the air at a silver mine.
  • Pistol: Bosie fires one into the air several times in a park while talking about how upset he is with his father.
  • They read in the paper that Bosie's brother shot and killed himself, and Bosie blames this on his father.
  • Phrases: "Idiot," "Shut up," "Bugger" and "Queer."
  • A man spits on Oscar after learning of his homosexual tendencies.
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • At least 6 "f" words (3 used sexually as are at least 3 instances of the slang word "bugger"), 2 "s" words, 1 damn, and 4 uses of "Oh God," 2 of "For God's sakes," and 1 use each of "My God," "God," and "Jesus Christ" as exclamations.
  • Robbie and Oscar make out and Robbie begins undressing (removing his shirt and undoing his trousers). Robbie then takes Oscar's hands and makes his pull down those pants and we see Robbie's bare butt. It's implied that they then have sex.
  • We see the side of Constance's breast as she holds one of her children near it (perhaps breast feeding).
  • We see Robbie and Oscar having sex with movement and sounds, but no nudity, and then see them lying in bed together afterwards.
  • We see a man pull Oscar onto his nude body (but Oscar's clothed body conceals any nudity).
  • We see Bosie, who's nude (just part of his bare butt), lying on top of Oscar after they've had sex. He caresses Oscar's chest and they kiss a few more times.
  • We see Bosie's bare butt as he walks around a room nude.
  • Bosie tells Oscar that "variety is the spice of life" and tells him that he can watch (him and another man have sex) if he wants. We then see the two attend a gay underground club where Bosie and another man kiss. Bosie then feels this other man's clothed crotch (in front of many other people) and they begin undressing, but we don't see anything else.
  • Constance shows some cleavage in a dress she wears.
  • We see a man's bare butt as he runs along a dock and jumps into a lake (skinny dipping). Later, we briefly see full frontal nudity of a man squatting on the dock.
  • Upset that Oscar's too sick to have sex with one of two young men he's brought them, Bosie says, "I'll go f*ck them myself."
  • We see Bosie and another man having sex (the shot is out of focus but we do see movement and a bare butt) and then see that Oscar is sitting in the same room watching them. Discovered by the hotel workers, the other man gets out of bed, grabs his clothes and we see his bare butt. Bosie then gets out of bed and we see his bare butt as well as partial full frontal nudity (pubic hair) as he puts on a long shirt.
  • Both Oscar and Bosie smoke throughout the film, while other minor and background characters smoke a few times.
  • As Oscar begins spending more time with his gay companions, he consequently spends less time with his family (although he treats them well when he's there) and Constance begins to feel the strain of being neglected.
  • Bosie talks about his father being abusive in the past toward both the kids and his wife.
  • Bosie's parents try to pressure him not to see Oscar anymore and it further strains their relationship with their son. Later, Bosie and his father get into arguments regarding this and his father tells him that he'll cut him off without a penny to his name.
  • Bosie briefly mentions his uncle taking his own life a year earlier.
  • They read in the paper that Bosie's brother shot and killed himself, and Bosie blames this on his father.
  • Homosexual behavior and people who are gay.
  • The historical accuracy of this story.
  • Oscar mentions that a person he's talking about in a story is a murderer.
  • Bosie slams a glass water pitcher to the floor, shattering it.
  • They read in the paper that Bosie's brother shot and killed himself, and Bosie blames this on his father.
  • Bosie's father threatens Oscar and says that if he catches the two of them together he'll give him quite a thrashing. Oscar then takes the man's walking stick and breaks it over his own knee.
  • Bosie's father struggles with two police officers as he tries to get into a building to get Oscar. Thwarted, he throws raw vegetables at the officers.

  • Reviewed April 20, 1998

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