Dorian Gray
dir Oliver Parker
scr Toby Finlay
prd Barnaby Thompson
with Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Ben Chaplin, Rebecca Hall, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Emilia Fox, Fiona Shaw, Caroline Goodall, Maryam d'Abo, Douglas Henshall, Michael Culkin, Pip Torrens
release UK 9.Sep.09
09/UK Ealing 1h52
Dorian Gray
Looking good: Barnes

firth chaplin hall
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde's classic novel is turned into a schlock horror movie, totally engulfed by gloomy atmosphere and over-the-top filmmaking. It's watchably cheesy, but completely lacks Wilde's incisive wit or observation.

Dorian (Barnes) is an orphan who inherits a sprawling mansion when his tyrant grandfather dies. Young and eligible, he's quickly taken under the wing of Lord Henry (Firth), who introduces him to the licentious ways of late 19th century London. But the sex and drugs sabotage his relationship with an innocent young actress (Hurd-Wood), and Dorian pledges his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal youth. Now instead of aging, a portrait painted by his friend Basil (Chaplin) shows the scars of his depraved life.

This story is just as relevant today as it was when it was written in 1890; the obsession with youth can be seen in nipped/tucked faces everywhere. But this film only barely touches that theme, instead focussing on the supernatural freak-out of this menacing picture locked away in Dorian's attic, plus some airbrushed gothic porn and lots of grisly bloodletting. In many ways, it feels far more like a vampire movie than Wilde's dark social satire.

It's odd that Parker takes such a gothic approach for his third Wilde adaptation (after An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest). It allows him to create lots of atmospheric stylishness, with gliding camerawork and shadowy sets, plus characters that feel like Dickensian icons. And this heightened reality lets the actors add lots of dark theatricality.

Firth is especially good at this; his steely, sardonic performance is very nasty, and utterly riveting. Opposite him, everyone else seems a bit bland, including Barnes, who's more of a pretty boy than a tortured soul. Much of his inner torment is portrayed only through lurid nightmares and fake, excessively set-dressed hedonism. And he has very little chemistry with either Hurd-Wood or Hall, who are both very good.

But all of this undermines Dorian's character as a wanton hedonist. Basically, decadence has never looked less enjoyable on screen. The violence is twisted and grim, with tricks stolen from J-horror and a bizarrely homophobic undertone (the only gay scene is essentially a power-play rape). And as it approaches its B-movie conflagration finale, it feels even more soulless than Dorian himself.

cert 15 themes, violence, sexuality 7.Aug.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall