When handsome young man Dorian Gray (Ben Barnes) inherits a mansion, he is seduced by the decadent lifestyle proffered by the wayward Lord Henry Wotton (Colin Frith) to the point of complete moral decay and corruption. When his friend, the artist Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin) completes a fabulously life-like and beautiful portrait in oil of Dorian, everyone is amazed. While Dorian retains his youthful good looks for decades as he revels in deplorable deeds. The painting gradually transforms and grows ever more ugly and evil as if to reflect his debauched soul. By the time he finds the one woman he truly loves (Rebecca Hall) it's too late and he must pay the price.
Review by Louise Keller:
This is a tantalising depiction of Oscar Wilde's tale about the eternally youthful Dorian Gray whose portrait reveals his inner ugliness. Penned by first time screenwriter Toby Finlay, there's an edge of psychological horror in director Oliver Parker's third Oscar Wilde story that tells how Ben Barnes' Dorian Gray sells his soul to the devil in return for his youth and beauty. After all, youth and beauty are the only two things worth having, Colin Firth's crafty Lord Henry Wotton muses. Set at the end of the 19th century, it's a handsome costumer with splendid production design and a claustrophobic score that locks us into the impressionable world of the young and physically perfect Dorian Gray.
The film begins with a startling, bloody revelation before taking us back a year earlier when Barnes' Dorian Gray arrives in London to accept the estate bequeathed to him by his grandfather. Barnes, who made us sit up and take notice as Prince Caspian in the second Narnia film, is well cast as the handsome, naive young man exposed to Lord Henry's debauched philosophy that 'the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it'. When Ben Chaplin's 'humble student of beauty' Basil Hallward paints Dorian's portrait, we sense straight away that Basil is enraptured by his subject. But Lord Henry is quick to corrupt Dorian, professing that 'every experience is of value' and that 'there is no shame in being happy'. Dorian's infatuation with Rachel Hurd-Wood's vulnerable titian-haired actress Sybil Vane is immediately poisoned when he is led astray into the carousel of bordellos, opium and bi-sexual encounters. Cruelty becomes Dorian's weapon of choice as he debases everyone in his path with no consideration of the consequences.
It is not until Dorian learns that there is a difference between pleasure and happiness, that he learns the value of a conscience. Parker manages to keep the suspense taut as the exquisite portrait that shows Dorian in all his physical splendour is kept from our view until the very end. Roger Pratt's cinematography is fine and the special effects chilling as the portrait comes to life. Firth grounds the film, stealing many scenes as the persuasive Lord Henry who champions cynicism. Rebecca Hall also makes an impression as Lord Henry's feminist daughter Emily. The best part of the film is the lead up to the climax; the climax itself is a bit of a dramatic let down. But there's a tangible mood that lingers - as does innocence and beauty corrupted.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Oscar Wilde's only published (and controversial) novel (1890, amended 1891) is a piece of Faustian gothic horror that touches on hedonism, homosexuality and the kind of sexual abandon that was not to manifest itself (publicly) until the 1960s - and then in a more benign form. It's a morality tale told through amorality and the pursuit of pleasures of the flesh. Wilde composed a story in which the message is entirely proper and more or less Christian, but the telling of which revels in its own - many - sins. And a few great quips, the most famous being Lord Henry's "The only way to behave to a woman is make love to her if she's pretty and to someone else if she's plain."
Director Oliver Parker abandons himself to the pleasure inherent in the work and is eagerly followed by a fruity British cast. The princely Ben Barnes makes for an ideal tall, dark and handsome young bachelor running amok in ever darkening circles in corseted London, and Colin Firth almost fizzes with seething wickedness as he eggs him on. Ben Chaplin also gets the measure of the gifted painter who unwittingly paints the portrait that begins to absorb Dorian's bad, bad behaviour.
The women get less of a chance to shine, but Rebecca Hall makes a late entrance to great effect and Rachel Hurd-Wood is memorable as the tragic Sybil Vane, Dorian's first love.
John Beard's production design is dripping with period atmos of a London with two distinct spheres: the rich, spacious and grand on the one hand, and the dank, dark and dangerous on the other. As for Charlie Mole's music, it's as if the composer had heard the first few words of the brief that it's a gothic horror story about .... And dashed out to write the score. But I still like it. It's as overblown and theatrical as the story but then what else to do in these cynical, supercool times with something as outrageous as this Faust feast.
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DORIAN GRAY (MA)
CAST: Colin Firth, Ben Barnes, Rebecca Hall, Caroline Goodall, Michael Culkin, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Ben Chaplin, Emilia Fox, Jo Woodcock, Fiona Shaw, Maryam d'Abo, Johnny Harris
PRODUCER: Barnaby Thompson
DIRECTOR: Oliver Parker
SCRIPT: Toby Finlay (novel by Oscar Wilde)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Pratt
EDITOR: Guy Bensley
MUSIC: Charlie Mole
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Beard
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 12, 2009