“The Happy Prince” tells dark days of Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde was the talk of the town in late 19th-century London. His fame grew as his plays gained attention, until his world turned upside down and his name was spoiled. “The Happy Prince” delves into the mind of the bright and colorful figure during his darkest days.
The film, which premieres at the Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of Wilde after he was released from a two-year sentence in prison for “committing acts of gross indecency with certain male persons,” according to historical records. It focuses on his exile in France and Italy and the challenges he faced while reconciling his new life with his past one.
Philipp Kreuzer, co-producer, said that many plays or films about Wilde tend to end at his condemnation. The idea to tell the story of his later years came from Rupert Everett, who wrote and directed the film while playing Wilde. The film is his directional debut.
Kreuzer said that Everett felt close to the story and worked on the script for several years before seeking out a production team. Once Kreuzer read the script, he was hooked.
“It was one of the best scripts I’ve read,” he said.
The film is built around the frame of “The Happy Prince,” a short story written by Wilde. It alternates between flashbacks showing important moments of the past and the juxtaposition of the love his fans had for him against the hate he received after the trial.
But one thing that made the script stand out is the use of ambiguity Wilde’s speech and actions, Kreuzer said.
“If you know Oscar Wilde you see that, but even if you don’t, it is still very moving,” he said.
He said that the technique causes viewers to gain empathy for the famous poet and playwright, especially as they see his indecisiveness in choosing his lovers and his wife.
Those struggling with accepting their identity can connect to a character who experienced similar emotions more than a century ago, Kreuzer said. Those who have not lived through that struggle get a glimpse of the pain many suffer.
But love is a theme in the film that just about everyone can relate to.
“The struggle of love and being loved, that was always driving (Wilde),” Kreuzer said.
Everett spent years researching Wilde’s life before the film began production, Kreuzer said. He was in touch with Wilde’s family and studied old documents to ensure accuracy in the film.
When the production team began planning filming locations, a friend of Kreuzer’s wife said that Wilde used to live in her home during part of his exile in Italy. Although the team was not able to film in the actual house, they filmed next to it and found other locations that matched Wilde’s reality, Kreuzer said.
Filming in multiple countries with two co-producers, Sébastien Delloye and Joerg Schulze, proved to be difficult at times, but Kreuzer said that Everett’s vision and direction pulled everything together.
“The movie turned out the way it is because he knew exactly what he wanted to tell, how he wanted to tell it and how he wanted it to come across,” Kreuzer said.
Authenticity was vital to that, but keeping a clear theme was also important, he said.
“The objective was always that you start feeling empathy for Oscar and his long injustice and struggle,” Kreuzer said.
“The Happy Prince,” an entry in the Sundance Premieres Competition, is scheduled to screen at the following times and locations:
Sunday, Jan. 21, 9:30 p.m., Eccles Center
Monday, Jan. 22, 9 a.m., Park City Library
Wednesday, Jan. 24, 9 p.m., Sundance Resort, Provo
Saturday, Jan. 27, 7 p.m., Redstone Cinema 2
Sunday, Jan. 28, 3:15 p.m., Grand Theatre, Salt Lake City
Rockwell Room is a versatile venue that can be used as a concert venue, reception center and more.