Stephen Fry was born to play Oscar Wilde, and that’s why the movie Wilde (1997) works. Fry inhabits the role and brings Wilde back to life, not just with the celebrated wit and conversation, but with the pathos and tenderness and with something that almost, but not quite makes you understand or at least empathize with the poor decisions Oscar Wilde made that got him into trouble in the end.
Many excellent actors have supporting roles, such as Jennifer Ehle (Lizzie in the one-and-only Pride and Prejudice, 1995), who plays Wilde’s surprisingly compassionate wife Constance, and Jude Law (in one of his first big movie roles), as Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, the lover whose father sues Wilde and ends up sending him to jail. Vanessa Redgrave, Zoë Wanamaker, and Ioan Gruffudd all have parts, and even Orland Bloom makes a brief appearance as a rent boy!
The best costumes in Wilde are mostly on the men, and they have a wonderful flamboyant touch that evokes what is known of Oscar Wilde’s aesthetic fashion sense (which was often reported on and even caricatured in the press from the 1880s to 1890s). He wears a green carnation in his lapel and keeps his hair long, but the effect is done just enough to be recognizable, not comical. The few women’s costumes we see are quite proper and subtle.
There’s a fantasy element in the movie, weaving in one of Oscar Wilde’s short stories for children, which adds a sweet melancholy to the story. And for those less familiar with his work, this shows yet another side of Wilde’s personality.