Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

In this iteration of Oscar Wilde’s oft told story ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, we meet Dorian (Ben Ramsey), a young man around the age of twenty, as he returns to his London home in the late 19th century after spending years abroad cloistered away in various boarding schools to assume his place as Lord of the Gray estate after Dorian’s abusive grandfather has moved on to the next plane. Shy and naďve Dorian eases his way back into the sophisticated British society he left as a boy and has caught the eye of painter Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin) who has a taken a shine to the young man. Seriously, this cat really, really digs himself some Dorian Gray. A lot. Dorian also makes the acquaintance of Lord Henry Wooten (Colin Firth), a man who does the best he can to enjoy himself as fully as he can within confines of marriage and the very restrictive British society. Impressionable as he is, Dorian becomes a student of sorts to Lord Wooten’s life theories, theories Henry doesn’t necessarily live by himself, but vicariously through Dorian he’s about to have the time of his life.

Then Basil paints the portrait, the best work he’s ever done. Then the goodhearted Dorian makes a fateful statement in response to one of the many propositions that Henry will float his way. And now, as they say, it is on.

Yes, Dorian meets a pretty girl named Sybil (Rachel Hurd-Wood), a girl he truly believes he’s in love with but quite honestly she’s really not appropriate for a young man of Dorian’s stature to marry. As if on cue there’s Henry informing Dorian, not through direct words necessarily, that a man with his youth, wealth and beauty would be a fool to marry so young and piss away a world that is ripe for his picking. Dorian has also noticed something a little odd with himself and this painting of himself that hangs on the wall. A bruise, a cut, a scar… they just fade away on Dorian the person, but the painting… What a revelation this would be for young Mr. Gray, and with that silly notion of marriage safely out of the way it is orgy time. If there is a way to indulge oneself, Dorian Gray partakes. That guy Basil that painted that picture, a picture that has been removed and safely locked in away in an attic, doesn’t like what Dorian has become but we are not going to worry about him too much either.

There is a world out there beyond this stifling society that Dorian needs to explore and off he goes, only to return some twenty five years later, looking like he just left yesterday while all of those he knew before have reacted to the passing of time as one would fully expect. Admittedly they didn’t seem nearly as shocked as I would’ve been observing a forty five year old dude walking into the room still looking nineteen, but there you go. And while the years have been good to Dorian externally, internally his soul is rotten to core and he wants it saved. Perhaps love can save his soul, a love he feels for Henry’s daughter Emily (Rebecca Hall). Not if Henry has anything to say about it, that’s for damn sure. Man, you should see what that painting locked away in the attic looks like now. It ain’t pretty.

I have to say I really did enjoy Oliver Parker’s version of ‘Dorian Gray’ though I don’t know if I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Massimo Dallamano’s trashy Italian version made way back in 1970. Now for disclosure’s sake I saw Dallamano’s film in the eighties as a teenaged boy and basically what I mainly remember is lots of naked women so I’m going to have to track down a copy and revisit that again as an old man, but to be honest with you Oliver Parker’s version is pretty trashy in its own right and any teenaged boy watching it today will probably have a similar remembrance of this movie when they think back on it as they turn forty in the not too distant future. Seriously, it’s SHOCKING how quickly fifteen turns into forty.

In a sense this is one of the reasons that I found this movie so entertaining and that would be Colin Firth’s fantastic performance as Henry Wooten and his theories on age and beauty. Henry is a man who by any measure has had a wonderful life, but not the life he wanted to live. Colin Firth was given some great lines in this movie and he delivers them with such acidic and acerbic wit that his performance alone makes this movie worth seeing. All of the other things you would like to see in a period piece such as this are similarly excellent. The costuming is flawless, the cinematography is lush, the settings are detailed, the music, the sound, Parker’s direction and the pace of the movie that they settled on just made for a very well done production.

‘Dorian Gray’ is a good movie and a great watch, but there were some issues here and there. Ben Ramsey’s performance was fine for the most part but I’m not sure he captured the pure hedonistic evil that we would expect from Dorian Gray. He was bad, I’m just not sure he was bad enough. Plus his transition from naďve kid to self indulgent asshole was not a gradual one. One bong hit and BAM! Asshole. In addition there was really nothing in Dorian’s pre-asshole persona, at least the way Ramsey played him, to really lead us to believe that he could completely become this hedonistic murderous jerk. Also the love that was supposed to be transpiring between Dorian and Emily was at best undercooked and not very convincing.

Nonetheless, despite the generous liberties taken with the original text, ‘Dorian Gray’ was very entertaining film peppered with a little horror, a little skin and a great performance form Colin Firth.

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