The latest adaptation of Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' is proof positive that the Irish literary genius was years before his time. Never before has his tale of the obsession with youth been more appropriate than it is today.
'The Importance of Being Earnest' director Oliver Parker helms his third Wilde adaptation, casting Barnes, he of the perfectly chiselled face, as the eponymous Dorian. Staying relatively loyal to Wilde's original 1890 novel, Toby Finlay makes his feature screenwriting debut by revealing the introduction of the young Gray into Victorian London society.
Thanks to the 'counsel' of Henry Wotton (Firth) it's not long before the Bambi-eyed and -hearted boy transforms into a selfish, lust-filled cruel man. En route, and initially, unbeknown to himself, he makes a deal with the devil to exchange his soul for eternal youth. He retains his youthful good looks, while his portrait, painted by his friend and admirer (Chaplin) displays his true ugliness. However, after indulging in every dirty deed available, portrayed in numerous gothic scenes, Gray relents before falling into the arms of the feisty young woman (Hall) who captured, and can free, his heart.
Magic portrait aside, it all sounds a bit twee - and it is. Yet it shouldn't be, given the original source material. While the timing could not be more apt, tapping into our surgery and youth-obsessed culture, the film is not scary enough to appeal to teen horror fans or dramatic enough to be gripping. This 'Dorian Gray' pales in comparison to Wilde's original or indeed director Albert Lewin's 1945 film adaptation 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'. Parker has overindulged in Gray's hedonistic days with the result that the film, and its audience, need a detox after all the gratuitous sex, drugs and Victorian style 'RocknRolla'.
Barnes was indeed the perfect looking actor for the role, however his continuous Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde routine from innocent to evil is unconvincing, especially considering the heinous acts his character commits. Halfway through it's difficult to care about his soul, his looks, his anything, except perhaps his demise - hardly ideal when the title character becomes irritating one hour into a two-hour film. However, Barnes is ably supported by Firth, who leads his character down the wayward path and Chaplin, who tries to lead him in the right direction, taking in the odd self-serving detour. Hall makes the most of her short but memorable role as the one person capable of helping Gray, as does the wonderful Irish actress Shaw, as Wotton's aunt.
As these film stills indicate, Parker's cinematography and lighting are dark, aided by a foggy mist hanging over every scene, both indoors and out. The budget obviously didn't stretch to cover decent special effects or diverse locations. The same lack of subtly extends to the imagery, with little left to the imagination.
In these cash-short, time-rich times, both would be better spent digging out the Oscar-winning 1945 version. Whether for entertainment or exam purposes, actor Hurd Hatfield's picture of 'Dorian Gray' is your only man.