The Wilde one

A master wit, an ambiguous sexuality, a prison inmate STEPHEN FRY and Oscar Wilde have much in common. So when Fry stars as his hero in a new film and plays up his own years as a young scoundrel in a new autobiography, where does art stop imitating life . . . and vice versa? Words: Alan Morrison

14 "IE LIST 10 Oct—23 Oct 1997

THE FILM WORLD has always had fun dressing up its favourite actors as real life characters. but when it comes to watching Stephen Fry play Oscar Wilde. the casting process seems not so much appropriate as inevitable.

Such is Fry‘s admiration for Wilde. at times you’d think he‘d modelled his life on the Victorian wit. Success as a novelist and stage writer. coupled with an ability to pepper his speech with clever wordplay. provides Fry‘s literary qualifications. And on the personal side. there‘s their shared height. homosexuality and time spent lodging with Her Majesty’s Prison Services although for Wilde. it was two years‘ hard labour for sodomy. while Fry was done for credit card fraud.

‘lt’s so much easier not to do things. and then you can always imagine how you would have done them.’ ponders Fry. awaiting the world premiere of the film at this year‘s Edinburgh Film Festival on the eve of his 40th birthday. ‘For years I’d thought. “Gosh. it would be great to play Oscar Wilde". but

finally, when the day came. I realised l’d laid my botty on the line.’

l‘Vi/de offers a much fuller portrait of its subject than previous dramatisations. We see Oscar the husband and father, watch his fame increase. witness his obsessive love for Lord Alfred Douglas (nicknamed ‘Bosie’) and the tragedy that follows when Bosie‘s father the

'Straight people must be wondering what on earth is going on. But straight people, as we know, go to bed right after Trevor MacDonald.’ Stephen Fry

splenetic Marquis of Queensbury wins a court case that sends Wilde to Reading Gaol.

‘One of the things we were keen to show about Wilde.‘ explains Fry. ‘was that he was not this great posing queen with crimped hair that gave off witty lines. but a very gentle soul and a listener. People in this country have always underestimated his gigantic intellectual quality. We think because he was witty. he was somehow second-rate.’

Fry has always been himself on screen, whether as Jeeves opposite Hugh Laurie’s

Tried and fried: Stephen Fry as the derided Oscar Wilde