Dorian Gray - Cinema Review

'this is probably the best we will ever see Dorian Gray on film but it says something that in the end it still only makes for an average motion picture.'

The Picture of Dorian Gray is not an easy book to adapt. For a start it is widely regarded as the last great 19th century novel, written by a man who is also regarded as one of that eras pre-eminent writers. Perhaps above and beyond that though is the fact that, in the novel, the horror is generated by the reader's imagination - you have a picture of Dorian in your mind and simultaneously a picture of his rotting painting as the degradation of his soul gets worse and worse - try putting that on film if you can.

And try director Oliver Parker does, along with collecting together all the other various facets of the tale into what is an extremely faithful adaptation of the text. There is vastly more to Dorian Gray than the painting (symbolised by the film maker's decision to drop the prefix of Wilde's title). This is a very personal journey on many levels and not just for Dorian - close friends Basil (Ben Chaplin) and Lord Henry (Colin Firth) each undergo their own personal dilemmas and wrestle with their own consciences as we move through the narrative, each one recreated here faithfully and accurately by Firth and Chaplin respectfully.

In the end, this is probably the best adaptation of the book we are ever likely to get. Sure, it could benefit from 10-20 minutes of cuts and the modern, occasionally pumping, soundtrack is hopelessly out of place in 19th century London but it is a very brave effort to adapt a book that just isn't made for screen.

When Wilde wrote Dorian, he was (and still is) more famous for his plays and the reason Dorian is a novel, not a play, is that the events in the story are just too complex on a personal and thematic level to squeeze into a couple of hours. Dorian's relationship with Sybil Vane (Rachel Hurd-Wood) for example, is an absolutely key part of the novel and Dorian's choices at this juncture shape what is to come in his life. Parker knows this, and despite, again, his best efforts, he knows he can't dwell on it for too long. It's in spite, not because of, Parker that even though the film is not deep enough in areas like the Gray/Vane relationship, it feels overly long.

Dorian Gray is, in a way, a film to admire. It doesn't sell out a classic text to Hollywood (it's British-made) and, despite some minor plot changes which don't feel out of place, it is very faithful to the Wilde's original to such an end that its main flaws such as Lord Henry's epigrams becoming wildly over-used as the story progresses, are the main flaws of the novel. In being this faithful however, it sadly compromises it's ability to be a successful adaptation. This is probably the best we will ever see Dorian Gray on film but it says something that in the end it still only makes for an average motion picture.

1 comment:

  1. I'm thrilled to hear that it is a faithful adaptation, the story itself is so great that I can't imagine why anyone would want to change it.

    I can totally see the desire to make this story into a film but there oddly it almost feels like it shouldn't because of the importance of key visuals. It's almost a paradox.

    Really looking forward to this version, the casting is freaking perfect!