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.