Nobody is very happy in The Happy Prince. This is Rupert Everett’s directorial debut, where his celebrity has afforded him the opportunity to play Oscar Wilde. If The Happy Prince has any sense of joy at all, it is with the acerbic and cutting wit of the often sardonic writer. Everett has captured the final days of the once heralded socialite, after he became the image of public ridicule and disfavor.
What happened to Wilde is the tragedy of many gay men. An esteemed force in the world of letters, Wilde was a successful writer until exposure of his taste for the same sex destroyed both his reputation and his ability to live. He was sentenced to two years of imprisonment and hard labor for his homosexuality. The same flamboyance that heightened his poetic sense of language also made him a public enemy in Victorian England. Everett’s empathetic biopic captures Wilde’s final days post-imprisonment. He tells of all his glories and misfortunes, his conquests of younger men, the faults within his straight marriage; it is a poignant and colorful life story and an easy crowd pleaser.
From Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince, the popular fairy tale that inspired the title, we find the moral being that through the enrichment and enlightenment of society, we can overcome any badly formed social hierarchy. It is an allegorical tale of the statue of a prince who lived a sheltered and pompous life, only aware of the wealth and privileges of the rich during his lifetime. But once risen as a statue, he would watch over such significant misery and pain of the common man. A symbol of wealth and prosperity held over a crumbling society, the statue makes a significant decision. He asks a sparrow to take all of the rich materials he’s composed of and to share them with the people. He is thus rewarded in the afterlife.
On his deathbed in a low rent Parasian hotel, Wilde (Everett) conveys a similar experience. “Suffering is nothing when there is love. Love is everything,” he preaches emphatically. That is the tone of the story here: we can achieve all the best results through love and compassion. This film carries such a passionate and loving humanitarian message, it’s hard to deny it despite its sedate recollection of the man’s final moments. Of course, the author’s story can be supremely difficult to relay, so often the most interesting moments of ingenuity being sequences of leisure, the writing parts. So it does not include much of Wilde, the writer, but instead, Wilde, the great humanitarian left to die by the culture who popularized him.
As an opening moment for TWIST, The Happy Prince is a good success. It conveys truths that have never been more pertinent. Especially in America, we can find stories of people overlooking the poor for their own wealth so easily. It is not an outsider story so much as a common perception today. The gulf of privilege has been realized, and the solution is being worked on. At places like TWIST, we can help spread love and compassion to the disenfranchised and overlooked.