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UK 1960
Directed by
Ken Hughes
123 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Trials Of Oscar Wilde, The

Peter Finch is not an actor you would imagine playing Oscar Wilde but he gives a winning performance in this substantial account of Wilde’s tragic fall from grace.

Based on a book by Montgomery Hyde which gives the film its title and a play, ‘The Stringed Lute’, by John Furnell it is a warmly sympathetic portrait of Wilde delivered with a little too much detail by writer-director Ken Hughes.

The first part of the film which depicts London of the “gay” Nineties with Wilde at the peak of his career confidently carrying on his highly public relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (John Fraser) much to the anger of the latter’s overbearing father the Marquis of Queensberry  (Lionel Jeffries, better known for his comedic bumblings but here doing an impressive job as a man consumed with hatred for Wilde). The richly costumed production looks good in Technicolor and there are plenty of Wilde’s bon mots scattered through the story.

Once, however, the trials kick in the film gradually loses steam. Uo first is Wilde’s suit against Queensberry. This is rather weakly set-up  and despite a good turn from James Mason as Queensberry’s barrister doesn’t build to the degree it should have.  Once Wilde loses, he himself is put on trial and then is re-tried and with each one the telling becomes more schematic and the momentum continues to dwindle,although Finch does give a moving speech in defence of the “pure love” of an older man for a younger.  And still there’s his two years in Reading Gaol, his divorce and his self-imposed exile in Paris yet to go. The film particularly disappoints in its latter stages because there is little sense that Wilde’s conviction and incarceration were effectively his death sentence (he died in poverty in Paris three years after his release).

Even so, the film is a worthy production and a brave one for its times (homosexuality was still a crime in Britain in 1960) though despite being critically well-received it failed at the box office with some cinemas refusing to screen it

FYI:  Another film, Oscar Wilde, shot in black and white with Robert Morley as Wilde was released at virtually the same time and also failed at the box office. The tide was turning however with Basil Dearden’s landmark film Victim coming out the following year. The failure of the film almost sent producers, Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli, broke but the latter rose from the ashes with the Bond films.




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