Variety (Sept 15, 2009, by Todd
Oliver Parker takes a
meat cleaver to Oscar Wilde yet again in "Dorian Gray," a film as
coarse and crude as its source material is refined and sublime. To
paraphrase the great Irish scribe himself, the picture is a monstrous
corruption, more at home stylistically in the bloody vicinity of Elm
Street or Hammer Studios than in the loftier realms of distinguished
literary adaptations, film festivals or the earlier incarnation of
Ealing Studios. Having opened theatrically on Sept. 9 in the U.K., the
pic looks more like DVD and cable fodder in most other markets,
There are three good
things in this latest version of Wilde's only novel: Colin Firth, who
tosses off the vast majority of the script's appropriated witticisms
with seasoned aplomb; Rebecca Hall, who singlehandedly revives the
moribund enterprise with a jolt of vitality in the final reels; and the
painting itself, which is stunningly rendered.
Otherwise, Parker goes
for the jugular, literally, splashing blood all around the famous story
of an exquisite young man whose devil's bargain allows him to retain
his beauty and lead a life of depraved debauchery while his portrait
ages hideously in an attic. It's as if the director envisioned a
companion piece to "Sweeney Todd," but with a porno-worthy synth score
rather than Stephen Sondheim.
Taken under wing by
Firth's vicarious libertine, Lord Henry Wooton, and tutored to "be
searching always for new sensations," Dorian (Ben Barnes) seduces, then
discards the girl he truly loves, Sybil Vane (Rachel Hurd-Wood), to
pursue the sybaritic life made possible by his looks. The assorted orgy
montages look as appealing as outtakes from a Plato's Retreat
documentary, and while Barnes ("The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince
Caspian") indisputably rates in the high percentiles in the looks
department, he doesn't exude the ineffable cockiness and jaded sense of
perennial entitlement of a born Don Juan.
Struggling a bit with
an unbecoming beard, Firth pretends not to notice the vulgarity
surrounding him while impersonating Wilde's epigrammatic surrogate.
Having previously pruned the charms of both "The Importance of Being
Earnest" and "An Ideal Husband," Parker will seemingly now be obliged
to train his sights on other eminent dramatists for his adaptations;
George Bernard Shaw and Noel Coward, beware.
|The Times (Sept
13, 2009, by Cosmo Landesman) - 1 out of 5 stars
Ben Barnes plays Dorian
Gray in Oliver Parker’s pointless and ponderous neogothic fable, an
adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novel about a young man who has
everything—beauty, eternal youth and fame—and loses it all. The
innocent and good-hearted Gray comes to London and is subjected to the
endless epigrams and bons mots of Henry Wotton (Colin Firth)—enough to
drive anyone to drink, drugs, sex orgies and murder, and that’s exactly
what happens to dear Dorian. The film—which manages to make Dorian’s
descent into decadence a dull and joyless experience—is actually a
piece of moralistic melodrama. Barnes can act, but his Dorian lacks any
depth; like his subject, he comes over as just a pretty face.
|The Hollywood Reporter
(Sept 12, 2009, by Peter Brunette)
Bottom Line: Worthy film can't decide whether it's a literary
adaptation or a horror flick.
One of the most
cinematically popular of all the works of professional fop and serious
literary artist, Oscar Wilde, “Dorian Gray” is upon us once again. Much
wilder if not more Wildean, this new version by Britisher Oliver Parker
professes to re-interpret the novel on which it's based, and it surely
Whether or not the
re-interpretation is always successful is another question entirely,
but superb production values and imaginative, vigorous camerawork,
music, and editing should carry the film a long way. It's not exactly
clear who the audience is for this occasionally subtle literary
adaptation that also aspires, almost against its will, to be a horror
movie, but it deserves to find an audience somewhere. Ancillary sales
should be much less ambiguous.
The timeless morality
tale concerns a beautiful young man from the provinces newly arrived in
London. Taken under the corrupt wing of Lord Henry Wotton (Firth), who
sprinkles decadent Wildean bons mots on Dorian (Ben Barnes) like pixie
dust, the pupil begins quickly to surpass his master in the amoral
pursuit of pleasure before all else.
The story's high
concept is that when Dorian's portrait is painted on his arrival, a
pact is made with the devil that ensures that the model will always
remain fresh and young, no matter how dissolute his life becomes, while
the telltale portrait, hidden away in the attic, ages and becomes
The excellent musical
score recalls Hitchcockian motifs, most notably that of “Vertigo,” and
adds nicely to the overall mysterious flavor of the proceedings.
Parker's approach is always to accentuate the visceral, whether it's
the gobs of impasto paint applied by the portrait artist, or Dorian's
frequent voluptuous forays into the world of raw sensuality.
Naturally, this kind of
approach slows things down a bit, and some viewers who don't fancy
themselves as aesthetes (in other words, who don't like the very
essence of Wilde's work) may find their patience being tried. Dedicated
if not decadent aesthetes will, on the other hand, revel in the
sensuousness of virtually everything connected with this film.
The portrait itself is
the most problematic element of the film. In the 1945 version starring
Hurd Hatfield, we only saw the painting at the very end, presumably to
be stunned by its suddenly unveiled depiction of an old and ugly man.
In Parker's version newer CGI techniques are perhaps overused, as we
see the portrait again and again, each time animated with more and more
squirming maggots, wounds appearing before our eyes, and in a final
paroxysm of software, Dorian's entire writhing body rendered as a kind
of a hologram that pops out of its frame. It is at these points that
the film veers most dangerously toward becoming a horror movie, pure
Lots of things that
were not in Wilde's original treatment find their way into the film,
such as Dorian's flashbacks to a brutalized childhood, various murders,
strong hints of sado-masochism, homosexual encounters, and, perhaps the
most entertaining, a moment of intercourse with a debutante daughter,
followed by intercourse with her mother, while the girl cowers under
the bed. But a good argument can be made that these extrapolations in
no way distort Wilde's original, but in fact merely update it to a
level that modern, jaded audiences will be able to find, in fact,
decadent and upsetting.
(Sept 11, 2009, by Anthony Quinn) - 1 out of 5 stars
For Oliver Parker to
have made one Oscar Wilde adaptation (An Ideal Husband) could be
considered a misfortune.
To have made another
(The Importance of Being Earnest) looks like carelessness. To be
responsible for a third (it has been shortened from The Picture of
Dorian Gray) perhaps deserves a smack. Ben Barnes is the handsome but
drippy eponym painted by Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin) and led from
innocence to depravity by the sybaratic Henry Wotton (Colin Firth). A
swift transition, this: Dorian takes one puff on an opium pipe and
suddenly becomes a cold-eyed seducer, pederast and murderer. The
location work is fine (Witanhurst on Highgate Hill gives the best
performance), but Parker's staging and direction are hopelessly inert;
the orgy scenes are knocked off from Eyes Wide Shut, while the later
movement into darkness looks (and sounds) like a cheap slasher movie.
The Wildean wit, needless to say, has not survived the transition.
|The Scotsman (Sept
11, 2009, by Alistair Harkness) - 1 out of 4 stars
Given we're living in
the midst of a venal, vanity-driven celebrity culture where fame is
treated as a goal in itself and Botox and Photoshop offer quick-fix
solutions to combat the irrational fear of ageing, the timing should be
perfect for a decent cinematic adaptation of Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel
The Picture of Dorian Gray.
protagonist's Faustian pact to preserve his youthful perfection with a
painting that ages while he indulges his every vice, Wilde's tale
offered up a potent metaphor for the soul-corrupting costs of such
behaviour that remains as relevant today as it ever was. What a shame,
then, that Dorian Gray, the latest stab at Wilde from Brit filmmaker
Oliver Parker (he previously adapted An Ideal Husband and The
Importance of Being Earnest for the big screen), offers up only the
most literal interpretation of Wilde's story, using it as the basis for
an unintentionally campy period film that plays out like a vampire
movie with no vampires....
Actually, Parker opts
against showing us the picture too much. Just as all reference to it
has been dropped from the film's title, it mostly remains hidden in
Dorian's attic, its horrific nature gauged only on the faces of anyone
unfortunate enough to come into contact with it. This is supposed to
build up dramatic tension to a final unveiling, but this falls flat,
thanks to Parker over-egging it with flashy changes in film stock and
an intrusive, clanging score. Unfortunately, that also means the film
leaves us with far too much time to focus on its soulless protagonist's
descent into debauchery, something that exposes a chief problem with
the film: namely, that it doesn't seem to know what to do with Wilde's
Firth's pithy delivery
of Wilde's best epigrams raises a few smiles; but mostly Dorian Gray
inspires howls of derisory laughter as it tries to sex itself up with
scenes of opium orgies, S&M sessions, man-on-man tongue-tussling
and intergenerational seduction. Barnes is hopelessly bland and way out
of his depth when it comes to this kind of thing. His startled acting
style gives him the demeanour of a bunny in headlights, not a rabbit
rutting for dear life. What's more, while he may be pretty as a picture
(something that worked adequately for him as Prince Caspian in the last
Chronicles of Narnia movie), he exudes about as much sex appeal as a
piece of Ikea furniture. This is a role that demanded the kind of
lascivious leeriness Johnny Depp brought to his portrayal of the Earl
of Rochester in the furiously filthy The Libertine, not someone who
makes Orlando Bloom seem like Jack Nicholson.
If Barnes is bad,
Parker's clunky compositions, his fondness for throwing claret around
and his tendency towards melodramatic plotting don't help. Working from
a screenplay from first-timer Toby Finlay, the film diverges from the
book by introducing Lord Henry's daughter, Emily, into the equation,
using her as a last-act love interest, a salve for Dorian's conscience
and a way to give Firth a more active role in bringing about the film's
Played with spiky
authority by the excellent Rebecca Hall, her appearance momentarily
lifts proceedings… until she's asked to fall for Barnes's Dorian, a
feat even she can't fake convincingly. It's not her fault: the film and
its star are against her. It's easy enough to see why he would suddenly
fall for Emily as played by Hall, but rather more difficult to imagine
what she could possibly see in Barnes's Dorian – unless her character's
back-story as a suffragette has given her a taste for chaining herself
to inanimate objects.
Parker tries to sustain
interest with a ludicrous chase on the London Underground and some
Grand Guignol effects work, but it's feeble stuff. Dorian's
perma-perfection in the midst of his ageing counterparts should have
been genuinely creepy and disturbing, not a cue for lots of Goth
posturing. In the end, this has been slickly enough made to have the
appearance of commercial viability, but it's all surface gloss and faux
decadence, a pretty picture with no heart or soul, and a vacuous
reminder of the artistic and intellectual sacrifices made in mid-level,
publicly-funded British films in their pursuit of box-office booty.
Perhaps some souls are withering away in the UK Film Council now.
|The Guardian (Sept
11, 2009, by Peter Bradshaw) -
The posters make
it look like a Twilight knockoff, but Oliver Parker's brash
version of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is rather
different. It has the style of a Hammer shocker from decades ago;
Wilde's romance is caricatured, certainly, but the whole thing is
socked over with gusto. Toby Finlay's adapted screenplay has some
clever new plot inventions and there's
a great turn from Colin Firth as the debauched aesthete
Lord Henry Wotton....Parker has made a name for himself with Wilde
adaptations. This is the least respectful and the most fun.
Times (Sept 11, 2009, by Kevin Maher) - 2 out of 5 stars
Bertolucci’s Little Buddha (in which Keanu Reeves played Siddhartha)
Dorian Gray is one of those rare prestige pictures scuppered by its
leading man. For, despite a classic source novel (Oscar Wilde’s The
Picture of Dorian Gray), some neat formal flourishes from its director
Oliver Parker and a truly handsome supporting turn from Colin Firth,
this story demands a more versatile and charismatic central player than
the powerfully blank Ben Barnes.
He was previously blank
with a sword in the blockbuster Prince Caspian and jazzy blank in the
mannered failure Easy Virtue. Here Barnes does pansexual blank, playing
the eponymous anti-hero, newly arrived to London and beguiled by the
local epicurean know-all Lord Wotton (Firth). The latter, delivering
all the best aphorisms (“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to
yield to it”), draws Dorian into the Faustian bargain that allows him
immortality at the expense of his humanity. This inevitably translates
as bedding both men and women, old and young, and hammering to death
lines such as: “I, am, a, god!” Truly dispiriting.
|The Daily Mail
(Sept 11, 2009, by A. Nonymous) - 1 out of 5 stars
plodding, lacklustre and ultimately disastrous costume drama is like a
genteel, unsexy parody of the worst Hammer horrors of the 1970s. To have succeeded, this picture needed a
young Johnny Depp to encapsulate Dorian's exquisite handsomeness
concealing a depraved and cruel mind; what it gets is Britain's
drippiest leading actor.
Ben Barnes is
even more hopelessly at sea here than he was in Prince Caspian, where
he was acted off the screen by a mouse. I know he has his fans among teenage
girls with posters of him on their walls, and no doubt they are, while
reading this, preparing to bombard me with hate mail. But this good-looking chap is wasted in
movies: he should be modelling Calvin Klein or comfortable knitwear. He
makes Roger Moore at his most planklike look like Daniel Day Lewis. Casting banal, boring Barnes opposite
people who really can act—such as Colin Firth as Gray's
Mephistophelean mentor Lord Henry Wotton, and Rebecca Hall as a love
interest not in the book—is like tossing dead wood on a fire to
see if it will burn.
A film about people
selling their souls in order to remain young and beautiful should have
been topical. But the film fudges this, and makes fashionable but
ill-considered additions to Oscar Wilde's classic novel, such as
flashbacks to reveal that Dorian was, as a child, physically abused.
This seemed to me to
have no relevance to the book, and never comes to anything anyway. This is not Wilde. It's tame and dreary,
with no energy, suspense or horror. When the picture of Dorian's
demonic soul is finally uncovered, it resembles not so much evil
incarnate as the late Max Wall.
Heaven knows at whom
this film is aimed. If I may paraphrase Oscar, this is the unbearable
in pursuit of the unboreable.
Verdict: You'll feel as
though you aged 20 years
(Sept 10, 2009, by Tim Robey) - 3 out 5 stars
The painting is the
star of Oliver Parker’s Dorian Gray. It looks suggestively blurred,
almost out of focus. Wait—are those bags under its eyes? Suddenly,
they look bloodshot. Then a maggot wriggles out from behind one to be
stamped underfoot, and everyone’s favourite Victorian libertine, Dorian
(Ben Barnes), decides it might be better off in the attic.
Parker has some handy
digital effects at his disposal, and a sterling Sir Henry in the shape
of Colin Firth, whose barked advice makes him come over as caddish and
envious, like a bitter Mephistopheles. I agree with the novelist
Jeffrey Eugenides that Lord Henry is the “real engine” of Wilde’s book.
There are good things
here, good scenes, and more than we might have expected from Parker,
turning it in between St Trinian’s films.
screenplay pumps up the homoeroticism—Dorian has a pretty clear idea how to
keep the portraitist Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin) under his, er, thumb.
Beyond mildly risqué bisexual assignations, the filmmaking isn’t
terribly adventurous, but cinematographer Roger Pratt (Mary Shelley’s
Frankenstein) gives it an inky opulence, and it’s quite watchable.
We could complain that
Barnes is a somewhat vanilla hellraiser, and more boyishly handsome
than impossibly beautiful. He’s too much of an ingénu at the
start. But, let’s face it, it could have been worse. It could have been
Entertainment (Sept 9, 2009, by Taragh Loughrey-Grant)
- 2 out of 5 stars
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.
|Time Out London
(Sept 8, 2009, by Dave Calhoun) - 2 out of 5 stars
Unlike ‘The Importance
of Being Earnest’ or ‘An Ideal Husband’, whose Wildean theories are
buried deeper beneath their stories, ‘Dorian Gray’ is a book of more
explicit, often difficult ideas.
So it’s no surprise
that Oliver Parker (‘St Trinians’), in his third Wilde film adaptation,
has stripped out some of the more heady debates about art, beauty and
the like, not least because he’s aiming for the sort of younger
audience attracted by the casting of Ben Barnes (from the recent
‘Narnia’ films) as Gray. So the focus is on the surface narrative of
Wilde’s novel: Gray’s ascent in London society on the arm of Lord Henry
Wotton (Colin Firth) and his later descent on the arm of his own vanity
as he sinisterly fails to age while a youthful portrait of himself in
his attic turns into a painting of an elderly ogre.
What newcomer Toby
Finlay’s sometimes daring script brings to the party is both a shift in
time so that the story ends in the early 1920s and the addition of a
possible redemptive love interest in the person of Emily Wotton
(Rebecca Hall), Lord Henry’s daughter, and a stick with which the story
tries to beat her Machiavellian father for his earlier misdeeds. These
are interesting ideas, but they would work better if there was more
decadence on show earlier on to nail Gray’s corruption: his initial
flights of abandon in the city’s opium dens and brothels are not seedy
enough and his rejection of his girlfriend Sybil (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is
not as powerful or central as it should be (Hurd-Wood’s acting doesn’t
But things look up from
the halfway point as Gray’s murder of an associate—and its dreadful effect on him—is claustrophobic enough to convince,
and the film is particularly interesting when presenting Dorian as a
Victorian out of time, pitching him against the Edwardian age, the car
and the suffrage movement. Barnes’s ability to handle his character’s
strange psychological journey is limited: he’s upstaged by the painting
itself, which doesn’t just age; it putrefies, maggots and all.
|Film.com (Sept 7,
2009, by Lisa Keddie) - graded B
Bad, bad Barnes: Fans,
be prepared for a huge shock to the system as Narnia hero Ben Barnes as
devilish Dorian Gray matures before your very eyes into a deviant,
arrogant and uglier version of the young man introduced at the
beginning of this period drama. Indeed Gray's opening scene will prompt
many gasps from the Barnes fan club, as he carries out an unspeakable
act of violence. Reminiscent to a 'period Devils Advocate', there are
slight alterations to Oscar Wilde's original work, The Picture Of
Dorian Gray (1890), by screenwriter Toby Finlay that do not affect the
enjoyment to be had out of this film about being fearless in life, as
well as one of man's major sin: vanity.
One clear difference
between the book and the film is Basil Hallward's (played by Ben
Chaplin) infatuation with Dorian that is not as clearly represented or
dwelled on as in the original. However,
there is a wonderfully witty side played out, brilliantly captured by
Colin Firth's scene-stealing portrayal as the tart and wicked Lord
Henry Wotton. Firth is an absolute delight, toying with his prey in a
period role that suits his measurable talents. Barnes is equally
impressive, dispelling any initial doubts as to his casting in the
lead, and it is thrilling to see him venturing as boldly as his
character into the unknown, in terms of this career path. Leaving the
security of the Disney fold was a wise move for such a young actor to
avoid stereotyping that appears to dog, say, Zac Efron. By choosing
roles wisely, Barnes's gamble appears to have paid off, progressing
from the intriguing Easy Virtue, to a far sinister Dorian Gray.
The production has all
the atmosphere of a classic gothic horror with gloomy East End streets
of London, uninviting and cold buildings, and Gray's dungeon-styled
attic. Director Oliver Parker who previously brought two Wilde stories
to the screen (An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest) is
ideally suited to recreating the menacing 1900 scenes in this film, and
the uneasy sensation of high society debauchery spiralling out of
control is ever present in parts as Parker's version has the freedom to
explore just what would happen if you were allowed to do anything,
without obvious consequences; to investigate what is right and what is
wrong; and to demonstrate that the obsession with staying young and the
secrets of eternal youth has always been a major issue with every
Such alluring topics
will resonate with today's audiences, breathing fresh new life into
Wilde's tale, and with a stellar cast in tow, Parker's film is a
pleasing and thought-provoking adaptation to see.
|Shadows on the Wall
(Aug 7, 2009, by Rich Cline) - 2-1/2 stars
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....
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.
Click on boots to contact me