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Wilde: Special Edition

Students of the works of Oscar Wilde will doubtless find Brian Gilbert's 1997 film Wilde fascinating, although it dwells little on Wilde's entire life and only touches briefly on his most popular texts and plays. Rather, Wilde concerns the events leading up to the writer's catastrophic downfall after his public exposure as a homosexual. Stephen Fry stars in the titular role as the English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic (who wasn't English at all, but rather born in Dublin as Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde) who became the toast of London society in the late 19th century with stage plays such as An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, as well as his sole novel, The Picture of Dorian Grey. But while Wilde's celebrity was rooted in his gift for language (and especially clever wordplay, with his innumerable paradoxes and aphorisms), he set tongues to whispering with his dandyish clothes and frequent acquaintances with younger men. However, Wilde was a married man with children, and it was only after he formed a friendship with Robbie Ross (Michael Sheen) that he was willing to explore his homosexuality. It was a later relationship that proved more troublesome, as Wilde became inexplicably enamored with the temperamental young Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas (Jude Law), an Oxford student whose carefree ways did not suit his cantankerous father, the Marquess of Queensberry (Tom Wilkinson). The Marquess demanded that his son have nothing to do with the older, iconoclastic author, an idea that made Bosie irate. And after the Marquess publicly implied that Wilde was a sodomite, Bosie successfully convinced Wilde to sue for libel — a reckless decision that cost him his career, as he was convicted for homosexuality and sent to prison for two years. As adapted from the noted Oscar Wilde biography by Richard Ellmann, Wilde is not necessarily an exciting film, but it moves with an even purpose and does a good job of getting the known facts right. The late-Victorian settings are marvelous creations, offering a perfect milieu for Stephen Fry's lead performance — the well-known comic actor may have come up with his definitive screen role in this dramatic turn. As the impulsive, destructive Bosie, Jude Law may play the pretty boy of the piece, but he has the sort of range to show how difficult Bosie was, and yet why Wilde found him to be such a sympathetic figure. And the supporting cast is uniformly strong, with Michael Sheen and Tom Wilkinson holding down few scenes, while Jennifer Ehle plays Wilde's wife Constance and Vanessa Redgrave has a cameo as Wilde's aging mother. Columbia TriStar's Wilde: Special Edition offers a strong anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio, and the feature set reflects the care that went into the film itself. Included are a filmmakers' commentary, the 55-min. documentary "Still Wild about Wilde" with insights from the filmmakers, the 24-min. featurette "Simply Wilde" with several biographical anecdotes from Stephen Fry, a photo gallery, trailers, and filmographies. Keep-case.
—JJB



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