I finally was able to see the 2009 version of Dorian Gray, adapted from the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
I am writing this review AS an Oscar Wilde fan. I have read The Picture of Dorian Gray twice and I have read The Canterville Ghost twice.
I am going to tell you right now that these negative reviews that claim that this film is an insult to Oscar Wilde are WRONG! It’s as if people who know very little about th works of Oscar Wilde are following a trend.
Those that say this would make Oscar Wilde roll over in his grave clearly have never seen the dreadful mid 2000s version of The Picture of Dorian Gray that re-sets it in the 1960s with a female Basil with horrendous acting. And they clearly have never seen the 1940s version of The Canterville Ghost that turned the entire story into World War 2 propaganda about a solider having to prove himself against a nazi.
I will admit that this not a word for word faithful adaptation of the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray however it is very true to the heart of the novel, the meaning and purpose. The character portrayals are perfect and accurate. All changes are purely superficial. I know Ben Barnes as Dorian does not resemble the character of the novel however he does resemble Oscar Wilde himself and since Oscar Wilde saw himself in Dorian I felt this was a brilliant use of visual symbolism in Wilde’s own relationship with Dorian Gray.
I know that some people have complained about the adding of the character Emily Wotton, whom does not exist in the novel. What people fail to remember is that nearly all film versions of The Picture of Dorian Gray have this ‘redeemer’ character. In the 1940s movie her name was Gladys. In the 1973 version of The Picture of Dorian Gray her name was Beatrice. In most versions she’s Basil’s niece or daughter but in this version she was Lord Henry’s daughter.
What many don’t know is that this character does exist in the novel. She’s mentioned briefly near the end as a country girl named Hetty. Her part in the novel isn’t as big as in the film adaptations but she does still exist and she works to add sympathy to Dorian’s character.
You cannot see the inner workings of Dorian’s mind in a physical medium like films or plays as you do with the novel so you you need a new way to see his moral struggle. And this is done through the presence of Emily.
Collin Firth was incredible as Lord Henry. That was the best portrayal of Lord Henry since George Sanders. When he says ‘People die by common sense.’ he fully became Lord Henry for me. Most people treat the role too academically and sound like they’re boredly reading from a book. Collin Firth however really got it. He really understood the character. This version of The Picture of Dorian Gray has more of Oscar Wilde’s witty epigrams than any other version before it. The only line missing that I wish was in here is Lord Henry gives Dorian a cigarette case. In this one it’s just inscribed with Dorian’s name. In the novel it reads ‘The World has changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curve of your lips re-write history.
The only character of the film I did not like was this version of Sybil Vane. (Sibyl in the novel). In this version Dorian seduces her into sleeping with him before marriage (as he does in the original film with Angela Lansbury in the role).
When Sybil starts talking about having a family Dorian argues that it is too soon, much thanks to the ideas planted in his head by Lord Henry. When this Sybil kills herself it gets revealed that seh was with child. This takes away from her sympathy. It’s true having a child out of wed lock was frowned upon in the Victorian era but it did happen. And it did not mean the end of the world. Look at the character of Fantine in Les Miserables. It was selfish of this Sybil to kill herself because she did not just kill herself, she killed herself and the unborn baby.
Sybil does kill herself in the earlier incarnations but at least she had never done it while carrying a baby and knowing she was carrying the baby, and having wanted to raise the child. It’s hard to sympathize with this version of Sybil, especially since you know her brother Jim would have taken care of both her and the baby if not Dorian.
Basil, however, was very sympathetic. One thing I’m glad they cut was that in most versions Basil didn’t just disapprove of Dorian’s relationship with Sybil out of jealousy, he also had told him not to marry beneath his class. Basil doesn’t do that in this version. Basil is the most sympathetic of Dorian’s Victims in this film.
Dorian himself is played exceptionally well though my favourite character portrayal in this version is Lord Henry. Dorian goes from ruthless and cruel to sympathetic and tragic in a heartbeat. The struggle is perfect. You can see his conscience, and not just with the painting. He is fighting against his own darker instincts which adds to making him sympathetic.
As a true Oscar Wilde fan I feel they captured the spirit of Oscar Wilde’s intent. This was the best version of The Picture of Dorian Gray I have ever seen, the black and white version coming in close second for having the better and more innocent version of Sibyl Vane.
I am in America and we never got a theatrical release of this version of Dorian Gray. This film is truly good, truly exceptional, and far more intelligent, interesting and just plain better than the Twilight Saga.
About Dorian Gray (2009)
Starring: Michael Culkin, João Costa Menezes, Paul Warren, Daniel Newman, Fiona Shaw, Hugh Ross, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Ben Barnes, Christian Wolf-La'Moy, Robert Johnston, Rebecca Hall, Max Irons, Johnny Harris, Douglas Henshall, Caroline Goodall, John Hollingworth, Ben Chaplin, Seon Rogers, Jeff Lipman, David Sterne, Salo Gardner, Geoff Searle, Colin Firth, Lisa Marie Cooke, Michael Thomson, Jo Woodcock, Simon John Wilson, Julian Birch, Lily Garrett, Emilia Fox
Director: Oliver Parker
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