In a cheap Parisian hotel room, Oscar Wilde lies on his death bed and the past floods back, transporting him to other times and places. Was he once the most famous man in London? The artist crucified by a society that once worshiped him? The lover imprisoned and freed, yet still running towards ruin in the final chapter of his life? Under the microscope of death he reviews the failed attempt to reconcile with his long suffering wife, Constance; the ensuing reprisal of his fatal love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas; and the warmth and devotion of Robbie Ross, who tried and failed to save him from himself. From Dieppe to Naples to Paris, freedom is elusive and Oscar is a penniless vagabond, always moving on, shunned by his old acquaintances, but revered by a strange group of outlaws and urchins to whom he tells the old stories – his incomparable wit still sharp. THE HAPPY PRINCE is a portrait of the dark side of a genius who lived and died for love in the last days of the nineteenth century.
My fascination with Oscar Wilde began when I was six years old and my mother read me The Happy Prince at night in bed. I remember it very well. I was enraptured by the story and inconsolable at the end. Coming from a military family with a distinctly pre-Freudian world view – it was probably the first time I heard about Love and Suffering and that there was a terrible price to be paid for it. The Happy Prince was a turning point.
In 1975, I moved to London. It is difficult to imagine now but it had only been legal to be gay for seven years and the police – making the most of the ambiguity in the 1967 law – continued to raid and arrest people for homosexual acts in public and so there was a palpable feeling that we were stepping in Oscar’s freshly trodden footprints on those unlucky occasions when we were herded into paddy wagons and taken down to the police station for the night.
Later I became an actor and performed in The Picture of Dorian Gray. It was a great success. When an actor discovers a writer who really works for him – that he can perform well and make his own – it is the beginning of a treasured relationship. Something between me and the text sparked. A few years later I performed The Importance of Being Earnest (in French) at the Theatre National de Chaillot in Paris and then made two films from Wilde plays – An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest. At around this point my career dried up – literally evaporated overnight and I began to write. I decided to create a role for myself. If no one else would employ me I would employ myself. Oscar Wilde seemed to be the ideal character. Not the Wilde of folklore, the iconic family man, the life and soul of the café royal but a different Wilde, the fallen star, the last great vagabond of the nineteenth century – punished and crushed by society, yet somehow surviving. I would write the Passion of Wilde! After I had been turned down by almost every director of note I decided to make the film myself. If I had been in possession of a crystal ball I would not have embarked on such a journey. It took ten years to get to preproduction. ~ Rupert Everett