This is the ironic title of the latest, and arguably the best of the bios of the famous and infamous author, playwright and bon viveur Oscar Wilde, who made up a story to tell his children, which he called The Happy Prince.
The story of Oscar’s fall from grace for his homosexuality has been well documented on film, starting with the two released in 1959 and 1960, These were the black and white Oscar Wilde, starring Robert Morley in the title role, Alexander Knox as his defence lawyer Sir Edward Clarke, Ralph Richerdson as the prosecuting counsel, Sir Edward Carson, John Neville as Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas and Edward Chapman as his father, the irascible Marquis of Queensbury, who wasn’t happy with his son sleeping with Wilde and outed him by calling him a “somdomite” (sic) and sparking the libel case bought by Wilde that resulted in a win for Queensbury when he was able to call witnesses and defend his allegation as true.
This first film was well received, picking up a three-star out of five “worth watching” rating in the Radio Times Guide to Films, though the 1960 black and white The Trials of Oscar Wilde did rather better with a four star “very good” rating. This starred Peter Finch, whose poignant portrayal of Wilde won him a Bafta, Nigel Patrick as Sir Edward Clarke, James Mason as a hawkish Sir Edward Carson, John Fraser as Lord Alfred Douglas and Lionel Jeffries as Queensbury. Both films had the courtroom drama as the centrepiece with nothing much about Wilde as a person. This was corrected 37 years later with the release of Wilde, which also rated four stars and graphically explored homosexual love with an excellent Stephen Fry in the title role, and an equally excellent Jude Law as a spoilt and unlikeable Bosie. Also memorably good were a luminous Jennifer Ehle as Wilde’s tragic wife, Constance, Tom Wilkinson as Queensbury and Michael Sheen as Robert Ross, his onetime lover and loyal friend to the end.
And it’s to the end that The Happy Prince, released last year is dedicated, taking place mostly in Paris where Wilde spent the last few years of his life. The film is an affectionate look at the man, and some of his men, and doesn’t shrink from depicting some of the massive lows in his life, not least a deeply moving scene when Wilde is spotted on his way to jail with a policeman at Clapham Junction station and a bunch of high-dressed low-life of both genders amuse themselves by spitting at him. Here Wilde is brilliantly and sensitively portrayed with all his strengths and failings by a man passionate about his subject, Rupert Everett, who admits to a fascination about Wilde from when he was a child and his mother read him The Happy Prince And Other Tales as a bedtime treat.
Since then, in 2012/2013 and again in 2016 Everett played Wilde in the stage play The Judas Kiss. In 2013 he started writing the script for his film and also secured funding for it, directed it and starred in it, along with Edwin Thomas as Robert Ross, Colin Morgan as Bosie, Emily Watson as Constance Wilde (Maiden name LLoyd) and Tom Wilkinson (again) as Father Dunne, the priest who attended Wilde on his deathbed. Also there with Ross and Dunne was Wilde’s lifelong friend and fellow author Reggie Turner, played by Colin Firth.
Wilde died of cerebral meningitis on November 30, 1900, aged 46 in room 16 at the dingy and budget priced Hotel d’Alsace in Saint-Germaine-des Pres where he quipped to friends that “I am dying above my means” – he died owing his kindly and patient landlord several months rent, paid two years after his death. And that “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death – one or the other of us has to go” Oscar lost that one but his famous sense of humour passed into history.Many years later it was the wallpaper’s turn as the hotel was bought up by a Sainsburys heiress and transformed into L’Hotel, a five star boutique establishment where room 16 has been refurbished and renamed the Oscar Wilde Suite. It is rentable for a night to anyone who doesn’t want much change from £1,000, with other rooms at around £350.
Meanwhile The Happy Prince, in spite of some major distributors refusing to show it, has won five stars from critics at the Times, the Guardian, Metro and the Evening Standard but only three stars from the Radio Times critic…