A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Happy Prince is a biographical drama about writer Oscar Wilde's post-prison days and his subsequent decline in Paris. Rupert Everett, starring in a role his fans have long waited for him to play, also writes and directs. Language isn't constant but includes multiple uses of "f--k" and homophobic slurs. There's lots of drinking (especially absinthe), often to excess; period-accurate smoking; and some drug use. There's also male nudity, mostly from behind (though also brief frontal glimpses), and a number of sexual situations, including regular encounters with a teenage male prostitute. Characters are harassed and threatened with violence due to their homosexuality. Colin Firth and Emily Watson co-star.
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What's the story?
In THE HAPPY PRINCE, the great Irish writer Oscar Wilde (Rupert Everett) has fallen on hard times since serving his two-year prison sentence for homosexuality. He's briefly buoyed by the generosity of friends like Reggie Turner (Colin Firth) and Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), but he jeopardizes his fortunes by reuniting with his love, Alfred "Bosie" Douglas (Colin Morgan). After their final separation, Wilde declines, destitute and unwilling -- or unable -- to work, in Paris.
Is it any good?
This biographical drama feels lived in and profound as it jumps around in Wilde's memories and feelings. The Happy Prince isn't a standard biopic. It focuses tightly on the brief, final period of Wilde's life, long after his greatest works were produced. It moves around in time. It makes no effort to lionize its subject. It's a dark, ugly situation, but -- as you might expect -- it's buoyed somewhat by Wilde's legendary wit. Some lines are appropriately lifted from his life ("I'm in mortal combat with this wallpaper," he tells a visiting friend, from what would turn out to be his deathbed: "One of us must go."). Others were added by Everett in his debut as a writer-director (he says to his estranged lover, whose father was responsible for Wilde's incarceration, "Let's talk about more cheerful things. Your father's death, for instance.").
Wilde is a role that Everett's fans have long been eager for him to play on screen, though perhaps not at this stage of decrepitude (he previously tackled Wilde on stage in 2014's heralded The Judas Kiss). The English actor is much transformed to become the deteriorating, bloated, fractured Wilde. (His portrayal is one that Wilde himself might have called a heroism of no other attractive options.) The so-mightily fallen writer keeps his wits and spirit about him, for the most part, as his world crumbles. Among the supporting cast, Thomas distinguishes himself as Wilde's loyal friend, Robbie; his concern and unrequited love for Wilde are palpable. And Everett directs with remarkable confidence from his carefully considered script. The movie's title comes from one of Wilde's children's stories, cleverly selected as an occasional touchstone for the film. He narrates the tale in pieces throughout the film, an odd mix of beautiful and terrible images, only revealing its true meaning -- and its symbolic comment on Wilde's own fate -- in the end.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the homophobia in The Happy Prince. Did you know that, until relatively recently, it was illegal to be gay in Britain? How did the film's depiction of Wilde's public shunning and taunting affect you?
Did this strike you as a standard biopic? If not, how was it different? Was the tight focus on one period of Wilde's life helpful, or did you expect more of his life to be covered?
How does the film depict drinking and drug use? Are there consequences? Why does that matter?
By choosing to continue his affair, Wilde not only turned his back on his wife and income but also on his children. Why do you think he did this?
- In theaters: October 5, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: February 12, 2019
- Cast: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Emily Watson
- Director: Rupert Everett
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sexual content, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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