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Not So Wilde

[whitespace] Wilde
Liam Daniel

The Importance of Being Oscar: Stephen Fry in 'Wilde'

New film biography of Oscar Wilde is balanced to a fault

By Gina Arnold

'BIOGRAPHY," says a character in Tom Stoppard's latest play, The Invention of Love, "is the mesh through which our real lives fall." If this is so, then Wilde, the just-released film biography of Oscar Wilde starring Stephen Fry, is a mesh made with the widest possible holes, capturing little of its main character's charm or fascination. Wilde is one of many projects dealing with the life of Oscar Wilde this year: 1998 is the 100th anniversary of Wilde's release from Reading Gaol, where he was imprisoned for the crime of perversion. Although Wilde still has much to offer the modern mentality, as a gay icon--which is how most of his fans wish to see him--he is a failure, and that may be why Wilde fails too. The film's namby-pamby skirting of Wilde's sexual mores raises more questions than it answers.

Fry bears a close physical resemblance to the real Oscar Wilde, but that casting coup masks a fairly diffident interpretation that's so sympathetic as to be both unbelievable and unbelievably naive. As Bosie, the beautiful but vicious boy who brought Wilde down, Jude Law is wonderful, however: he's lovely enough to explain Wilde's fascination and wily enough to almost justify the terms of his enslavement. Alas! As Wilde's long-suffering wife, Constance, Jennifer Ehle looks just as she did in the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice, which is a pity, because we all know that Ehle's Elizabeth Bennett wouldn't have put up with such nonsense from her husband for a minute. Lovers of Merchant-Ivory "period" dramas will enjoy the gorgeous sets and costumes, but all others may find this apologia hard to stomach.

Wilde (R; 117 min.), directed by Brian Gilbert, written by Richard Ellmann and Julian Mitchell, photographed by Martin Fuhrer and starring Stephen Fry, Jude Law and Jennifer Ehle.

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From the May 14-20, 1998 issue of Metro.

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