Film review: Dorian Gray (2009), directed by Oliver Parker
Based on a story by Oscar Wilde, Dorian Gray is a gothic horror drama, you might say. We weren’t too sure which genre it belonged to before watching it, and afterwards we were still trying to make it out.
Handsome, young orphan Dorian Gray (Ben Barnes a.k.a. prince Caspian of Narnia) is left a house and what appears to be a considerable amount of money, by someone who had looked after him as a young boy. We don’t know where Dorian comes from, but he appears in London, wide-eyed and naive, and is taken care of by some new-found friends: painter Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin) and Lord Henry Wotton (Colin Firth – wow, can you believe it’s been 15 years since Mr Darcy?).
Basil paints an unusually life-like portrait of Dorian, and Henry leads Dorian astray. It begins with a cigarette, then delves deeper into drugs and debauchery and even murder. As the years pass, Dorian remains looking as young and healthy as ever – but what is the price you pay for selling your soul?
I didn’t know much about the film beforehand, more than it’s something to do with a guy who doesn’t age for some reason, that it was Oscar Wilde’s idea, and that it featured people in period costume. A good film with excellent actors – Colin Firth has been Oscar nominated, I discovered earlier today. Rachel Hurd-Wood, playing the young actress Dorian falls in love with, isn’t as exceedingly red-haired as she is in Perfume, but I still think her hair looks lovely.
Some costume drama connections other than that of Mr Darcy: Fiona Shaw (Mrs Reed in Jane Eyre 1996), Emilia Fox (Georgiana Darcy in Pride & Prejudice 1995), and Rebecca Hall (Antoinette Cosway in Wide Sargasso Sea 2006).
Caroline Goodall I recognised but didn’t know the name of. She’s been in a few things, but I think I recognised her from The Mists of Avalon, where she played Igraine. Douglas Henshall of course fought monsters in ITV’s canned Primeval most recently. Here, his role was more in the background, he hardly had any lines. This was true for most of the people I just mentioned. Their parts aren’t massive, which is a shame, but then again the story isn’t about them, it’s about Dorian. Dorian and his trip from being a nice young man to being the most morally corrupt bastard you could possibly think of.
As a film, it’s compelling. Some bits will probably make you jump or at least something along those lines (I know I did), and other bits – go “eww!”, like when there are maggots involved. Eww! Maggots and I are not the best of friends. The costumes looked nice, the cinematography was good, the acting was good, but the story was perhaps not as convincing as it could’ve been (one tiny argument and you go swim with the fishes? Over-reacting much?).
A good watch, though, although it brought up some questions. Such as: the naked lady in the clamshell, mustn’t she get terribly bored just standing there holding her long hair all day? And, potentially, if such questions pop up rather being engrossed in the story … well … let’s just say I wouldn’t rate it a 10/10 on IMDb.
3 out of 5 theatre stages.