UK / 1960
Writer and Director: Ken Hughes (based on the play by John Fernald and the book by Montgomery Hyde)
Cast: Peter Finch, Yvonne Mitchell, James Mason, Nigel Patrick, Lionel Jeffries, John Fraser, Sonia Dresdel
Although Hollywood frequently manages to produce two films about the same subject simultaneously (as with Deep Impact and Armageddon), it isn’t a new phenomenon. In 1959/60, there were two films released about Oscar Wilde and this is the superior version (the other film starred Robert Morley). Peter Finch stars as the Irish literary genius whose downfall was caused by the man he loved.
The film commences on the opening night of Lady Windermere’s Fan , with the evening marred only by an argument between the Marquis of Queensberry (Lionel Jeffries) and his son, Lord Alfred Douglas (John Fraser). Oscar Wilde, a married man with two children, is however attracted to Douglas (aka Bosie) and begins a torrid relationship with the clearly unstable younger man. The affair is a cause célèbre, with Oscar being blackmailed about the relationship but still lavishing riches on his lover.
Needing money to support both his family and Bosie’s extravagant style, Oscar retreats to Brighton to write The Importance of Being Earnest. He’s pursued by Bosie, however, and the two men quarrel and part – they’re only reunited when Oscar learns about the death of Bosie’s brother. On the opening night of his new opus, Wilde is accused of being a sodomite by the Marquis of Queensberry, with the playwright suing Bosie’s father for libel. It is the first of three trials that will eventually see Wilde sent to Reading Gaol for two years’ hard labour.
A moving portrait of a great man brought crashing down by his own vanity and the petty jealousies of others, The Trials of Oscar Wilde features a powerful performance by Peter Finch in the title role. It’s a sensitive drama, comparable to the equally acclaimed Wilde, made nearly 40 years later with Stephen Fry.