Magazine article The Spectator

Inning Oscar

Magazine article The Spectator

Inning Oscar

Article excerpt

Wilde (15, selected cinemas)

The Peacemaker (15, selected cinemas)

Responding to a US Customs official with an insouciance few of us would risk, Oscar Wilde had nothing to declare but his genius. A century on, it sometimes seems as if Wilde, like the same-sex lover of a British subject passing through Immigration at Heathrow, now has nothing to declare but his gayness. Happily, in this anniversary year of all years, Wilde The Movie is refreshingly un-single-minded. Indeed, in its depiction of the happy family man, loving father, bedtime storyteller, toy fixer and even passionate husband, Wilde comes close at times to inning Oscar.

Andrew Sullivan, the British journalist turned American gay, once told me that he thought there was actually more male-onmale sex a century ago - before the invention of gayness as a non-stop, roundthe-clock, semi-religious calling requiring, in its more rarefied form, interviews with the Times and presentation at Court. By contrast, Wilde reminds you of the subtle elasticity of Victorian values: Oscar, as a devoted family man with a taste for hairier pleasures, was by no means unconventional. It's the modern world that has chosen to take him primarily on the Marquess of Queensberry's valuation, as a 'somdomite' - a typing error in more ways than one. Julian Mitchell's screenplay redresses the balance - if anything, a little too eagerly: in Wilde, Oscar postpones his reunion with Lord Alfred Douglas until after his wife Constance's death; in real life he couldn't wait that long.

Still, Mitchell makes you rethink almost all the principals in this drama. Tom Wilkinson's Queensberry is not the crude monster of legend, but a more complicated, even sympathetic figure - not least because, as the script suggests, Bosie's elder brother killed himself after a hushedup homosexual scandal. Over lunch, with Wilde firing off aphorisms, Queensberry seems to hover somewhere between repulsion and a sneaking attraction. The performances are terrific, especially from Jennifer Ehle as Constance and Jude Law as Bosie, a vain, self-regarding pretty boy with venal eyes and attention deficit disorder. I don't quite understand, though, why Law should get the lion's share of the sex scenes. I've only seen the guy in a couple of things, but his body is becoming wearily familiar: in Les Parents Terribles in the West End and on Broadway, he emerged from the bath at the top of Act Two and leisurely towelled off for what seemed longer than the title song of Hello, Dolly! Law is in danger of having nothing to declare but his penis. …

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