Release Date(s)1960 (August 9, 2022)
Studio(s)Warwick Films/Eros Films (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C-
The Trials of Oscar Wilde is a lavish Technicolor drama about the celebrated author’s legal troubles that plagued him at the peak of his career. The toast of London with one hit play after another, Wilde (Peter Finch) is known for his sharp wit and ready quips, and enjoys great critical, popular, and financial success.
The Marquess of Queensberry (Lionel Jeffries), however, fails to see Wilde’s charm. He blames Wilde for corrupting his hedonistic, self-centered son Lord Alfred Douglas (John Fraser), 20 years Wilde’s junior. After Alfred is expelled from Oxford, the Marquess becomes obsessed with destroying Wilde.
In England at the time, homosexuality was a crime. When the Marquess accuses Wilde of sodomy, his first instinct is to sue the man for slander, but his lawyers strongly advise against it. A trial could bring out facts that Wilde, a married man with two children, might wish to keep under wraps. Wilde moves forward nevertheless and initiates a lawsuit against Queensberry.
A series of three trials ensues in which cherry-picked passages from Wilde’s poetry and prose are presented as evidence against him and his homosexual trysts are brought to light, resulting in social ostracism and worse.
Finch is excellent as the flamboyant playwright, with a combination of ready wit, upper-class arrogance, and no shortage of self-assurance concerning his talent. Whether Wilde is greeting enthusiastic first-nighters, dining at the Savoy, or enjoying domestic happiness as a husband and father, Finch provides a well-rounded, subtle portrayal of the complex character.
The handsome Fraser exudes vanity as Lord Alfred, whose sense of entitlement reveals his lack of character. He enjoys Wilde’s largesse, having his bills paid by the playwright, rebuffs his authoritarian father, and hitches his future to the famous, moneyed man. The film is discreet in making clear without depicting Wilde’s bedroom exploits in keeping with the way films of the 1950s-1960s had to clarify while circumventing certain scenes and language.
Jeffries turns in a convincing portrayal of Queensberry as domineering and constantly incensed. Whether confronting Wilde in public or sitting in the courtroom, he projects a seething hatred both in vocal outbursts and in more subtle signs of indignation. His fury meets with Wilde’s calm, self-assured disdain, inflaming Queensberry all the more.
James Mason plays Sir Edward Carson, the prosecuting attorney and Wilde’s courtroom antagonist in the first of the trials. Initially, Wilde parries his questions with witticisms that elicit laughter in the courtroom, exhibiting his mastery of repartee, even as Carson, less facile with language, scores points. With an actor as accomplished as Mason, however, it’s disappointing that the script doesn’t provide more of a theatrically charged confrontation.
Though the trials are in the title, they don’t occur until about halfway through the picture. Writer/director Ken Hughes spends a good deal of screen time illustrating Wilde’s character, so that he doesn’t come off as a pervert, but rather as a highly nuanced individual.
Hughes’ screenplay, based on the book The Trials of Oscar Wilde by H. Montgomery-Hyde and the play The Stringed Lute by John Furnell, is refreshingly literate. The dialogue reflects upper-class British types and is particularly effective in revealing how untouchable Wilde believed himself to be. His insistence on suing for libel and refusal to heed his wife and friends when they beg him to flee abroad mark the beginning of a disastrous downfall.
As director, Hughes moves the narrative briskly, so that the film’s 130-minute running time flies by. His staging of crowds of richly dressed extras in the theater lobby and Savoy scenes is especially grandiose, reflecting high society at play, with Wilde the centerpiece. The screenplay is succinct, every word serving a purpose, and the production design lavish.
1960 saw two feature films about Oscar Wilde opening within a week of each other. Oscar Wilde, starring Robert Morley, was modestly budgeted, but to avoid confusion with that film, the title of The Trials of Oscar Wilde was changed to The Man With the Green Carnation. This Blu-ray release has restored the original title.
The Trials of Oscar Wilde was shot by director of photography Ted Moore on 35 mm film in the Technirama process in Technicolor, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35: 1 (35 mm prints) and 2.20:1 (70 mm prints). The Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics contains the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The film is sourced from an older master that hasn’t been fully restored but is quite satisfying to the eye. The Technicolor palette is used to great effect in the first scene, the opening night of Lady Windermere’s Fan, with the women’s formal gowns in assorted colors, mostly bold primary hues, dazzling. Detail overall is very good, with costume patterns, furnishings in Wilde’s home, paintings on the wall, statuary, and a huge candelabra well-delineated. Complexions are natural. The only defect is a series of white specks visible during the opening credits.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an option. Dialogue is clear and crisp throughout, while the British and Irish accents are easily understood. Ron Goodwin’s score is floridly symphonic for the opening credits, with dramatic chords underscoring key moments in later scenes.
The only bonus features are a series of theatrical trailers for other releases by Kino Lorber Studio Classics:
- The Man With the Green Carnation (The Trials of Oscar Wilde) (3:45)
- Room at the Top (2:54)
- The Chalk Garden (2:50)
- Isadora (2:24)
- He Who Must Die (1:20)
- The Queen of Spades (2:51)
- Murder by Decree (3:33)
- The Internecine Project (3:00)
The Trials of Oscar Wilde chronicles how a decision by Wilde himself brings exposure, embarrassment, scandal, social ostracism, and financial ruin. In a fascinating series of events, Wilde is transformed from one of England’s brightest literary celebrities to a social pariah.
- Dennis Seuling