Poet, playwright, wit extraordinaire, Oscar Wilde burned brightly and came to a perhaps inevitably tragic end. He almost singlehanded created the concept of a Victorian aesthete, that decadent intellectual devoted to beauty and form, or as Wilde put it, ‘art for art’s sake.’ He wasn’t a true dilettante, however, and his plays, such as The Picture of Dorian Gray and An Ideal Husband still resonate today.
Although married to Constance Lloyd since 1881 and fathering two boys, Wilde also had affairs with men. His tempestuous relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas was outed by that young man’s father, leading to the criminal trial where Wilde attempted to defend “the love that dare not speak its name.” Unfortunately, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years of prison with hard labor, which destroyed his health and caused his death at age 46.
We’ll always have Wilde’s brilliant literature and devastatingly sharp words to remember him by, along with these movie and TV portrayals of the man himself.
John O’Malley in “The Ballad of Oscar Wilde,” Have Gun – Will Travel (1958)
Per IMDB: “When the noted British humorist plans an appearance in San Francisco, Paladin must extricate Oscar Wilde from the unpleasant predicament of being held for ransom.” Wilde did cross the U.S. and visit San Francisco in 1882, after all.
Peter Finch in The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960)
Made in Britain when homosexuality was still illegal, this film dances around the specifics of Wilde’s love life but is surprisingly sympathetic, thanks to some fine performances.
Robert Morley in Oscar Wilde (1960)
Apparently based on a 1936 play starring Morley, I don’t buy the casting in this one, plus the production values are lower so it suffers in comparison.
Peter Egan in Lillie (1978)
Wilde is only a supporting character in the series, but he’s shown as critical to Lillie Langtry’s success, and she’s shown as one of his few remaining friends through his trial, which is beautifully staged.
Michael Gambon in Oscar (1985)
Despite being a BBC production with major stars, I can’t find anything about this three-part TV movie, no good pix, nothing! What’s up?
Nickolas Grace in Salome’s Last Dance (1988)
It’s Ken Russell, so it’s weird. Oscar Wilde watches a bizarre performance of his play Salome. Only worth watching if you’re on good drugs (aka, my review of every Ken Russell movie).
Stephen Fry in “Oscar,” Ned Blessing: The Story of My Life and Times (1993)
“I’ve known my share of indecent men, and Oscar Wilde wasn’t one of ’em,” says western guy Blessing. That’s all I got.
Stephen Fry in Wilde (1997)
SO GOOD. SO SAD. SO BEAUTIFUL. BIG PUFFY HEART STEPHEN FRY!!!
Alexander Payne in Paris, Je t’Aime (2006)
In this anthology homage to the city of Paris, director Wes Craven sets his bit in the Pere-Lachaise cemetery, where a Wilde gives advice to some quarreling lovers..
Rupert Everett in The Happy Prince (2018)
The final years of Wilde’s life after he’s released from jail and is in exile. Melancholy and eloquent, and yes, I will do a full review of this soon!
Who’s your favorite on-screen version of Oscar Wilde?