Wilde | 1997
- DIRECTOR |
- Brian Gilbert
Stephen Fry stars as Oscar Wilde, a role he was born to play, with an explicitness missing from earlier versions of the story and the use of striking period locations. For those not familiar with the circumstances of the writer’s fall from grace, the US DVD jacket helpfully tints the central character’s suit bright pink. You get the hint?
If you expect a traditional English Heritage film, you’ll be totally wrongfooted by the startling opening, supposedly at ‘Leadville, Colorado’. The Western-style sequence is the desert at Alicante on the southeast coast of Spain, though the interior of the tin mine, where Wilde charms the miners, was constructed at Grip House (now Greenford Studios), west London.
The exterior of Wilde’s West End apartment is the central courtyard of Somerset House in the Strand, a familiar location seen as ‘St Petersburg’ in Goldeneye , as ‘Devonshire House’ in The Duchess, and as ‘New York’ in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, among many other appearances.
His play Lady Windermere’s Fan opens at the ‘St James’s Theatre’, which stood on King Street in London’s West End until being demolished in 1957. The imposing frontage seen in the film is, of course, the Palace Theatre, dominating Cambridge Circus on Charing Cross Road, home of big musicals. The auditorium and the bar are the more modest Richmond Theatre>, The Green, Richmond, seen in many previous films, including The Krays, Evita, and as the ‘Duke of York’s’ theatre, where Peter Pan premieres in Finding Neverland, with Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet and Dustin Hoffman.
The little passageway of Addle Hill, off Carter Lane, tucked away south of St Paul’s Cathedral, is the street where Wilde gets the first intimations of his true sexuality as he watches a bunch of working class youths (well, the group does include Orlando Bloom – in his first screen appearance). The elaborate Victorian shopfront was added to the undistinguished modern southwest corner, but the highly decorated Venetian-style building on Carter Lane is real enough. Originally the St Paul’s Choir School, it became a YMCA. It’s still there, but Addle Hill itself has been redeveloped.
Spoiled and petulant opportunist Bosie (Jude Law) confides his fear of blackmail to Wilde alongside the River Cherwell in the grounds of Magdalen College, Oxford, which actually was Wilde’s alma mater (and if you’re visiting, remember it’s pronounced ‘Maudlin’).
Meanwhile, Wilde’s wife, Constance (Jennifer Ehle), hints at marital problems to Lady Mount-Temple (Judy Parfitt), on the beach overlooked by the spectacular natural arch of Durdle Door, west of West Lulworth between Weymouth and Swanage on the B3070 in Dorset, a location also seen in John Schlesinger’s Thomas Hardy adaptation Far From the Madding Crowd.
At Swanage itself is the traditional Victorian Swanage Pier where Wilde takes his kids fishing while suffering from a cold.
Less grandiose is the country retreat at which Oscar relates the story of The Selfish Giant to his children and where he’s able to write in peace. The charming estate is Houghton Lodge Gardens, a cottage ornée just south of Stockbridge in Hampshire, about 12 miles east of Salisbury. The garden is open to the public from March to September.
Period interiors were filmed at London’s Athenaeum Club on Pall Mall (you can see the club's exterior in Cruella); the National Liberal Club in Whitehall (which also supplied interiors for David Lynch’s The Elephant Man and Highlander) and the house at 25-26 Tredegar Square in Bow, E3.
The drinking den in which Robbie Ross (Michael Sheen) consoles Wilde’s discarded love John Gray (Ioan Gruffudd), is the Jamaica Wine House, St Michael’s Alley, Cornhill, E3, an odd-looking terra-cotta pub tucked away in the heart of the City, built in 1652 as England’s first coffee house. More recently, the Wine House is featured in Lone Scherfig’s 2014 The Riot Club – an adaptation of Laura Wade’s hit stage play Posh.
Wilde and Bosie make up after their blazing row at a grand hotel, which is another familiar location. Then a stately home (and open to the public), it now really is a hotel. It’s Luton Hoo, Hotel, Golf and Spa, near Luton in Bedfordshire, north of London, which has been featured in Four Weddings And A Funeral, Eyes Wide Shut, Never Say Never Again and A Shot In The Dark among many others.
As Wilde pursues Bosie’s father, the apoplectic Marquess of Queensberry (Tom Wilkinson) in a reckless libel action, the law court exteriors are those of Middle Temple, Lincoln’s Inn, tucked away south of the Strand, just where it morphs into Fleet Street, in London EC4.
The details of his private life are inevitably made public and the writer falls prey to the draconian laws of the period. He was arrested for ‘gross indecency’ while staying at the Cadogan Hotel, 75 Sloane Street, at Pont Street in Chelsea. The hotel is still in business, but it stands on a busy and modernised street. The ornate red-brick exterior seen in the film is 2 South Audley Street (you can see its equally gorgeous interior in Howards End), behind the Hilton Hotel in Mayfair.
The outcome of the trial is hardly a spoiler, and ‘Reading Gaol’, in which Wilde is incarcerated, is HM Prison Oxford, New Road, alongside Castle Mound, Oxford.
After his release from prison after two years, it’s back to Spain again for the ‘Italian’ cemetery where Wilde visits his wife’s grave, and for the ‘French’ sidewalk café, where he decides to meet Bosie again, which can both be found in Granada.