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The new biopic "The Happy Prince" will spark a variety of emotions among devotees of the Irish-born author and gay icon Oscar Wilde. Starring Rupert Everett as Wilde (he also wrote and directed), the film focuses on Wilde's last days in exile in Paris, looking back at his life, including his two-year imprisonment for "gross indecency."
"The Happy Prince" features a sublime ensemble, with Colin Firth as Wilde's friend Reggie Turner, and a commanding Colin Morgan as his ravishing but betraying lover Alfred "Bosie" Douglas. Nude to the waist, Morgan demonstrates the dark talents of a young man capable of luring a prince of letters to his doom. A solid Emily Watson fills out the top-billed cast, taking on the thankless role of Wilde's long-suffering wife Constance.
A career obsession for the now-59-year-old Rupert Everett, the drama focuses on the rapidity of Wilde's decline once Oscar loses his lawsuit to Bosie's pugnacious father, the Marquess of Queensberry, ironically usually credited with drafting the modern rules for pro boxing. While those rules meant the adoption of gloves and the end of "bare knuckle" brawling, with Wilde the enraged dad took off the gloves and set out to ruin his dandy son's male lover.
"The Happy Prince" is a great jumping-off point for Wilde newbies, as Everett and company demonstrate the tragic errors committed by the poet in his efforts to win a public relations battle over sodomy while Queer Victoria still reigned. With its complicated flashback structure, the film also provides our Oscar with a poetic series of grace notes, hinting at the great storyteller's long-delayed posthumous victory over his brutish foes.
Colin Morgan as Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde in "The Happy Prince." Photo: Wilhelm Moser, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics