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 worshipped 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 folk lore, 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 pre-production.
– Rupert Everett
About the Production
Origins of the Project
In 2009 producer Jörg Schulze read an interview which Rupert Everett had given to the German SPIEGEL in which Everett revealed that he was writing a script about the life of Oscar Wilde. Through a mutual acquaintance in Berlin Schulze established that the project was indeed serious: Everett had already finished the script and was looking for ways to put the production together. London would have been the logical starting point for a period film such as this but it was proving impossible to finance the project from the UK alone, so Schulze offered to try to take it forward, enticed by what he thought to be “one of the best scripts he’d ever read”.
After a few discussions with Rupert, it became clear that although it would be challenging with him in the lead role, he would also have to direct. Even at this early stage Rupert had assembled a powerful cast including Emily Watson, Colin Firth and Tom Wilkinson. “The script and the cast were our fundament for the film” Schulze now says. The decision was taken to attempt to finance the movie out of Germany by navigating the intricate possibilities and pitfalls of German funding. He made introductions to Thorsten Ritter, from Beta Cinema, and then finally to Philipp Kreuzer who was responsible at this time for co-productions and a producer at the Bavaria Film Group. Markus Zimmer from Concorde, who had successfully distributed many of Rupert’s films over the years, came on board early and things fell further into place when FFF Bayern offered substantial funding in spring 2015. Being one of the largest regional funds in Germany, the FFF Bayern had recently launched a special program for international co-productions which was a perfect fit for THE HAPPY PRINCE. This was the initial key element around which the financial structure of the film in Germany was built.
In London, Rupert had appeared in Robert Fox’s production of THE JUDAS KISS, a play by David Hare portraying two critical moments in Oscar Wilde’s life. Everett got rave reviews, with The Guardian calling it “the performance of his career”. The play transferred to the West End and then to Toronto and Broadway and this helped garner attention for THE HAPPY PRINCE in the UK where BBC Films and Lions Gate UK committed to the project.
Creating a realistic production concept was quite a challenge: set in Paris, Naples, Normandy, Heidelberg and London - this production would become a period piece on wheels and while a considerable studio element was discussed, Rupert was convinced that only real locations offered the authenticity he was seeking. “The task was to develop a production and financing concept which met all of Rupert’s creative needs and aspirations while at the same time making sense economically. It was clear we needed more partners” says producer Philipp Kreuzer. He decided to turn THE HAPPY PRINCE into a true European co-production. He first reached out to Sébastien Delloye’s company Entre Chien et Loup in Belgium (ELLE, THE CONGRESS), who became co-delegate producer. Subsequently, Rome-based Palomar also got involved. Both managed to raise substantial amounts of finance in their territories, and as a result the film received co-production support from Eurimages. Finally, boosted by several equity partners, the financing could be closed. After months of location scouting in Bavaria, Brussels, Wallonia and Naples and countless schedule adjustments to accommodate for the various availabilities of the cast, shooting commenced in September 2016.
The Cast and Crew Early on Rupert had second thoughts about playing the lead role of Oscar Wilde himself, but the success of the 2012 revival play THE JUDAS KISS ultimately convinced him and everyone else otherwise. He has said many times that he could not have made this film without the support of Colin Firth. It was the film’s casting director Celestia Fox, (THE NAME OF THE ROSE, REMAINS OF THE DAY, THE PIANIST) who first brought the two together in the 1984 film ANOTHER COUNTRY, which earned Rupert his first BAFTA Award nomination. Their friendship grew through the many films they did together such as THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST in 2001, and ST. TRINIAN’S in 2007. With a proper handlebar moustache, Colin plays Oscar’s dear friend Reggie, bringing a touch of humour and lightness to Wilde’s darkest moments.
Thanks largely to Rupert’s extensive connections, Oscar and Reggie are in the company of an experienced and exciting cast of characters: Emily Watson, (Oscar nominated for BREAKING THE WAVES), plays Constance, Oscar’s maligned wife, and Colin Morgan (MERLIN, THE LIVING DEAD) is Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde’s volatile lover. His opponent Robbie is played by newcomer Edwin Thomas. Two-time Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson plays Father Dunne, the priest who hears Wilde’s final confession and Anna Chancellor, Béatrice Dalle, Ronald Pickup, John Standing and Joshua McGuire all appear in supporting roles.
Rupert helped us to assembled an impressive creative team for his directorial debut: John Conroy brought the film to life with his hand-held camera and natural lighting, Maurizio Millenotti and Gianni Casalnuovo designed divine costumes and Brian Morris and his team met the challenge of re-creating 19th century Naples and Paris in Bavaria’s Franconia.