If you know me in person or if you've been following me online for a while then you already know what a huge Oscar Wilde fan I am. You probably also know that 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' is my favorite book. There are a handful of Dorian Gray films to date and I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts on the pros and cons of each. This week, I'd like to begin with the 2009 version to start out a new series of film reviews titled 'Creature Feature' in which I assess various "gothic" films and monster movies. So, let's begin!
5 Thoughts On This Film:
#1 - The Cast
Typically, if Colin Firth is in a movie then you're probably going to enjoy it. This fact holds true with this film. I honestly can't imagine a better Lord Henry Wotton. The casting of Ben Barnes is especially interesting to me because I can't seem to overlook the similarities to a young Oscar Wilde himself more so than casting to fit the description of Dorian Gray. I'm not sure if this was intentional or if I'm alone in this but I definitely found it pleasing. That being said, Ben Barnes is phenomenal in this role. He definitely shines in this film and has won me over as a fan. I'd also like to mention that Ben Chaplin's performance as Basil Hallward is so passionate and true to the character that it made my fangirl heart soar. Basil Hallward is one of the few fictional characters in literature that I actually identify on a deep level with and so I was very happy that Chaplin did him such great honor. I would be remiss to leave out Fiona Shaw. Her performance as Agatha is also a highlight.
#2 - The Script
Yes, as a book lover you have to acknowledge the fact that it has its "That wasn't how it happened in the book!" moments. However, and this is coming from someone who truly loves this story dearly, I think those creative flourishes can be forgiven. Overall, I feel it strays only to make the story more adaptable to the screen. The book allows you to really see things from Dorian's perspective but transforming that visually could prove difficult; so, Toby Finlay took some liberties by adding new characters and altering situations to highlight the progressions of Dorian's character and examine the destruction to those associated with him. I don't feel like these variations take away from the nature of the story and, in fact, I feel that as a whole the film stays very true to the tone and heart of the book. I love that a lot of the original dialogue was also used.
#3 - Honoring Dorian's Sexuality
Dorian Gray was a progressive character of his time for a number of reasons, not least of all being his sexuality. Most accept that he was bisexual and some, including myself, insist he was actually omnisexual. It's very important to me that this fact isn't left out or shied away from when he's portrayed. (What would be the point in making a film about Dorian Gray if you're not going to let him be Dorian Gray?) I'm extremely thankful that they embraced it fully in this film. I'm also happy that they took the time to depict Basil's feelings toward Dorian. Dorian's sexuality is built upon ego but Basil's is sincere and heartfelt. Their dynamic is definitely one of my favorite things about the story.
#4 - Art Direction
It's the quintessential Victorian Gothic film and I mean that in the best way. The entire movie is, fittingly, a work of art. Every scene is carefully constructed from the sets to the direction of the actor's movements to be visually stunning. This film is definitely in my rotation of movies that I'll just casually have on in the background while I work on creative projects.
#5 - The Heart Of It
This isn't a film that was made to cash in on the popularity of gothic literature. This is a film about (for so many of us) a beloved novel made by Wildean enthusiasts for Wildean enthusiasts. I am aware that there are some fans that really dislike this film. I'm going to hazard a guess that it's because of the addition of certain characters (namely Emily) that vary from the original story. However, I stand by my assessment that overall the movie does great honor to the nature of Dorian Gray's character and I'm happy that this film exists.
Have you seen this film? What did you think about it? If not, then I hope this review inspires you to give it a chance. It's definitely worth two hours of your time and many more, if like myself, you find yourself watching it again and again.
- Dez Schwartz -