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?
I’ve been wondering about Constance. What sis she know and when sis she know it? Why did Oscar marry her? Why did she marry him?
Frankly, knowing everything, I’d marry Oscar just for the scintillating conversation.
I don’t think she knew anything until after his arrest. They did remain on good terms apparently, but she changed her and her sons last name to Holland, and she forced him to give up his parental rights to his children.
She visited him in prison to bring him news of his mother’s death, but after his release she refused to send him any money unless he stopped associating with Lord Douglas.
I don’t know I lame her for that last. Alfrd Douglas was a fairly worthless young man if I remember rightly.
Couldnt agree more. “Bosie” was a repulsive anti-semite, a parasite and cowardly betrayer of Wilde.
Richard Ellmann’s Wilde bio is perceptive re. Oscar and Constance, and just about everything else concerning O.W. Also, Vyvyan’s son Merlin Holland (b. 1945), Oscar’s only grandchild, has written extensively about his family. Just imagine: Oscar Wilde’s grandson walks and talks and writes among us. As a life-long Wilde fan, I find that genuinely awesome.
A brief TV interview with Vyvyan Holland filmed a few years before his death:
Nitpick time: ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ has been dramatized many times but it’s a novel, not a play.
Beat me to it!
Oscar Wilde was managed by Richard D’Oyly Carte, and Carte sent Wilde on his US tour as advance promotion for the American tour of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, which was a satire on the aesthetic movement. Carte needed Wilde to demo “art for art’s sake” to US audiences to enable them to get the jokes in the opera.
Favourite Oscar Wilde performances are Peter Egan in Lillie, Stephen Frye in Wilde and Rupert Everett in The Happy Prince.
Years ago I came across a memoir by Wilde’s son Vyvyan, which was sympathetic to both his parents, but leaves one with the impression that Constance’s family were pretty awful. They raised the boys following their mother’s early death but constantly scrutinized the poor kids; Vyvyan at the time had no idea what for, and was apparently quite relieved, years later, to find out what the actual charges against his father had been (he’d always worried it had been for robbery or embezzlement).
I remember reading about Vyvyan’s relief thar his father wasn’t a thief or embezzeler, and admiring his priorities and sense of proportion
Vyvyan Holland’s book ‘Son of Oscar Wilde’ includes a wonderful description of Oscar, immaculately dressed, playing with his children
in their nursery with a toy horse-drawn milk cart. Noticing that the little milk churns had removable lids, Oscar fetched a jug of milk from the kitchen, filled them up, and sent the cart racing round the nursery, slopping milk everywhere (much to the boys’ hilarity and the housekeeper’s dismay). After his conviction the cart was auctioned off with the rest of the children’s toys. I’ve never understood why none of the biopics used this incident.
Stephen Fry in anything.
By all accounts, his lecture on interior decorating to an audience of miners in Leadville, Colorado, during his US tour was a stand-out success. Picture Oscar in his elegant black velvet suit, long hair, dainty manners … and a rowdy audience of hard-bitten miners.
The story is that he went out drinking with a number of locals, and earned their respect for being able to carry a prodigious amount of alcohol..
I have fond memories of the mini-series Lillie, and remember the tragic/comic character of Wilde forty years later. But I did not remember the actor! Peter Egan went on to play Cousin Shrimpie, the Marquess of Flintshire, in Downton Abbey. There truly are only a dozen actors in all of Britain . . . and all of them are very good!
Oh J Lou there are many more than a dozen but it makes me laugh that if you look any of them up on IMDB, they’ve all been in The Bill, Casualty and Midsomer Murders!
STEPHEN FRY FOREVER
I’m almost mad that Rupert Everett plays him in the new Wilde biopic. Even though I know it’s, like Everett’s passion project, other people can play Oscar Wilde, Fry might not be a great fit for the tone/style of the movie, maybe he wasn’t available, etc. DONT CARE WANT STEPHEN FRY