Gilbert clearly gave Fry and Law the confidence to play roles that would require a baring of souls, and they are triumphant. Ehle's Constance comes across as a woman of noble character, initially in denial, but never a fool. Sheen's Ross has a genuine loyalty of a degree that is enviable, a quality shared by Wilde's other staunch friend, Ada Leverson (Zoe Wanamaker). Vanessa Redgrave is Wilde's feisty, steadfast mother, and along with Wilkinson, there is strong support from Gemma Jones as the unhappy Lady Queensbury and Judy Parfitt as Lady Mount-Temple, whose tart observations on the hypocritical appearance-is-everything mores of high society help define the world of Oscar Wilde.
A work of superior craftsmanship, "Wilde" moves quite briskly, and the idea of approaching an unconventional life with a traditional narrative style pays off. Unfortunately, the film is marred by Debbie Wiseman's trite, overly emotional score, which has the effect of needlessly underlining every point along the way that has otherwise been made so subtly. It is especially undermining in its morose tone in the film's final sequences, when the pace naturally slows down as Wilde's life enters its final phase.
Everyone else involved in the making of "Wilde" has done an exemplary job illuminating a man and his era. Wilde was a man undone by trying to lead a double life, but one who nonetheless found the courage to be true to himself. Wilde worried that his instantly banned plays would be forgotten, but they are constantly revived, their place in world literature secure. Nearly a century after his death, he is remembered even more than they--and as a hero.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong sexuality and language. Times guidelines: The film has several scenes of lovemaking that are candid without being exploitative or graphic.
Stephen Fry: Oscar Wilde
Jude Law: Lord Alfred Douglas
Vanessa Redgrave: Lady Speranza Wilde
Jennifer Ehle: Constance Wilde
A Sony Pictures Classics presentation of a Samuelson production in association with Dove International Inc., NDF International Ltd./Pony Canyon Inc., Pandora Film, Capitol Films and BBC Films. Director Brian Gilbert. Producers Marc Samuelson, Peter Samuelson. Screenplay by Julian Mitchell, from "Oscar Wilde" by Richard Ellmann. Cinematographer Martin Fuhrer. Editor Michael Bradsell. Costumes Nic Ede. Music Debbie Wiseman. Production designer Maria Djurkovic. Art director Martyn John. Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes.
* At selected theaters in Los Angeles and Orange counties.