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Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… the 1984 BBC Pericles

reposting this on the occasion of John Woodvine’s 89th birthday.


It’s a bit disappointing to learn that the most famous cricketing reference in the Shakespearean canon – “From Ashes, Ancient Gower is come… ” probably wasn’t written by Shakespeare at all, but by George Wilkins – the eclectic chancer most editors regard as responsible for much of the first half of Pericles Prince of Tyre.

In this production, Ancient Gower is played by Edward Petherbridge – whom you might remember as the heartbreakingly tender Newman Noggs in the very great David Edgar RSC production of Nicholas Nickleby.  As Gower, Petheredge affects an archaic rustic accent which sounds almost mid-Atlantic at times and which, together with his hirsute appearance, reminds me of nobody so much as the benign old hippy who used to present Fingerbobs.  This sort of stilted kindliness helps steer us through very stormy waters, because (let’s face it), Pericles is choppy, discontinuous, confusing sort of play…

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Happy Birthday Matthew Prior. Time to try to pitch my book again. “The Art of the Deal”.


Matthew Prior was born OTD in 1664.  Grandson of a Dorsetshire agricultural labourer, his story represents one of the most extraordinary examples of upward mobility the late seventeenth-century had to offer.  He did much of the detailed diplomatic work that ended a world war.  At the height of his powers, he was the confidante of Europe’s leading power-brokers.  Prior was a friend of Robert Harley, effectively British Prime Minister.  He was favoured and flattered by Louis XIV, the most powerful man in the world.

He was also the best poet writing in English for a significant portion of his life and in many ways the most important link between the so-called “Age of Dryden” and the so called “Age of Pope”.

And the problem that I think I’ve had pitching my book is that now that the book is written, I find that it’s really about poetry.  It’s not about poetry that is about politics so much as about poetry that is about politics that is about poetry.  Prior’s career as a diplomatic is crucial, but diplomacy is about rhythm – about the promise and deferral of equipoise.

I’ve divided my treatment of Prior’s poetry into three substantive sections dealing with political verse, religious verse and amorous verse.  Despite his unusual lifestyle, as a serial monogamist who liked to live with long term working-class girlfriends, Prior had a more acute sense of spiritual longing and theological curiosity than almost any of his contemporaries.  His “Solomon” influenced Pope’s “Essay on Man” and Johnson’s “Vanity of Human Wishes”, but is more intellectually astute than the former and more ambitious than the latter.  Prior’s political verses meanwhile remind us that panegyric can be as complex and subversive as satire, since every act of praise is also an act of appropriation.  Meanwhile, his many love lyrics are devoted to satirising while exploiting pastoral/romantic conventions while reinforcing the fact that all love play plays with the idea of a shifting balance of power.

Part of my difficulty is that I’m not sure that I want to have a thesis other than “Prior’s poetry is really good and people should read it.”  I know that it’s not possible to publish a book that is so devoted to verse for verse’s sake – so what I need to do is work on the introduction and conclusion in such a way as to highlight the fact that all diplomacy is a matter of prosody.  I need to somehow communicate the fact that a study of Prior does not involve any decision to prioritise either politics or poetry, because Prior’s verse is suffused with a fascination with dialogue and negotiation.  If the book is about the verse rather than the details of treaties, it is because there is a poetry to diplomacy too.

Furthermore, I have to explain and justify the poetic credo of ars celare artem more explicitly.  As a diplomat, Prior had to be modest.  You do not succeed as a diplomat by bursting into a room and shouting “I’m a genius – I can make you people agree to anything!”  Rather, it is your job to find a means whereby everyone can go home believing not only that they have won the negotiations but that the outcome was one that they had themselves anticipated.  The good diplomat must dissolve.

This modesty informs Prior’s verse also.  Self-deprecation is key to a particular kind of personable relationship between poet and reader.  Prior is, perhaps, the poet least like Milton imaginable, yet Prior admired Paradise Lost enormously.  Prior and Milton were, jointly, William Cowper’s favourite poets.

Perhaps the other thing I have to ponder is my enduring fascination with eighteenth-century literary figures who are also twenty-first century sporting celebrities.  James Beattie. Matt Prior.  Jos Butler.

Films I get to see long after everyone else. On a plane. “The Death of Stalin”.


A practical note.  If you’re watching a film on a plane wearing nasty little headphones – always go for the “subtitles” option.  If “English” isn’t available then pick any Indo-European language you may have vaguely heard of and you’ll at least get some kind of approximation of the actual dialogue of whatever film you’re seeing.

These headphones weren’t that bad, but I still read as well as listened to the script for The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci; David Schneider, Ian Martin, Peter Fellows) which meant that my tiny screen was decorated with frantic obscenities for two hours of the flight.

The film begins with a concerto that has to be frantically re-performed because Stalin phones up the concert venue and demands a recording of it.  This scene establishes the basis of all good black comedy.  It’s a ludicrous situation that compels mirth, but it’s impossible to not know that lives are at stake.  Great black comedy is comedy that provokes a self- interrogation.  “I laughed at that – why did I laugh at that – what’s wrong with me or what’s wrong with a world when so many people can laugh?  What are we supposed to feel in a crisis and are we to be blamed for not feeling the right things in the right order?”

Some pompous critics still accuse the film of trivialising the quantitative and qualitative horror of Stalin’s regime.  Such critics are presumably incapable of experiencing more than one emotion at a time, and assume that laughter negates terror, whereas instead this is a film in which laughter and terror are constantly sharpening one another.  At no point in the film are we allowed to forget that this is a world in which countless people are being rounded up and shot as well as a world in which particular people are hideously tortured prior to being shot.  What emerges is a sort of Feydeau farce in which a bullet in the brain is the denouement that replaces people wearing improbable underwear falling out of wardrobes.

As the genocidal tyrant himself is proved mortal and is instantly demoted from source of all power to piss-stained bag that’s difficult to carry, the focus of obvious villainy becomes Lavrenti Beria as played by Simon Russell Beale.   Beria seems bereft of anything resembling human empathy and is capable of atrocity upon atrocity.  Yet there are no heroes in this film, and when Beria is finally denounced and killed and burned (in a fashion strikingly reminiscent of Hitler’s bunker garden cremation) it’s clearly staged as a way of projecting and distilling the horrors of decades onto just one convenient figure.

When Svetlana Stalin (Andrea Riseborough) turns to Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) following his successful anti-Beria coup, she remarks in a telling phrase – “I never thought it would be you”.   If the audience did not know in advance (and horror of horrors some people might not have known)  that Khrushchev would be the last man standing and holding the reins of power out of this crowd, you’d be disinclined to put money on him for most of the film.  The final moments of the movie show a mute Brezhnev sitting one row behind Khrushchev and plotting his move.

In many ways Buscemi has the central role in this drama.  He’s fully compromised by and Stalinism and has blood on his hands like everyone else but he’s “human” enough to communicate empathetic terror.  Critically this is a drama about not knowing how frightened to have to be.  Malenkov, Molotov, Khrushchev etc. etc. have known during the reign of Stalin that they could die any moment, but each had what they thought was a strategy for survival.  With Stalin’s death, terror loses its stem and becomes rhizomatic.  Everyone is more frightened than ever yet nobody knows which way to look, or is able to see which vector of Stalinist oppression is able to define itself so as compel or countermand the other vectors.

It is also a film about whether or not it is possible to act quickly and decisively without any habit of independent thought.  Characters are constantly contradicting themselves in order to reinforce whatever is assumed to be “orthodox” at any given time.  Michael Palin is especially pitiful as Molotov, a communist so orthodox he is unable to allow himself to celebrate the fact that his wife is unexpectedly alive and returned to him.  Jeffrey Tambor is even more hilariously pathetic as Malenkov, the new titular head of government whose sense of personal agency seems virtually nil.   We are drawn to Buscemi as Khrushchev because despite his cowardice and complacency, the audience wonders what if anything they would have done differently from him.  Khrushchev is a frightened man who just wants to survive.  He’s scrambling for a lifeboat, and that means surviving at the expense of others.

It should be noted, meanwhile, that with the exception of Beria, the other characters in this post-Stalinist world are not tortured and killed when they lose influence.  Molotov and Malenkov were stripped of their powers but lived to be old men.  Khrushchev himself was allowed to retire in turn.

To its credit, the film reminds us constantly that the real victims are not these courtiers but the ordinary people of Russia.  1500 people are gunned down during Stalin’s funeral, a figure that would (thankfully) represent a tragedy of unprecedented proportions in most countries.  The sheer expendability of humanity under Stalin and Stalinism is the key theme of this movie – a comedy about fear.

Humans often laugh when they’re terrified, a circumstance that Iannucci’s critics seem not to have noticed.  If laughter is necessary in the face of terror, then historically speaking, laughter while trying to survive Stalinism must count as some of the most necessary laughter of all.


John McCain is becoming Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt.



Donald Trump has said that his patience is wearing thin with John McCain and soon he’s going to fight back.  “It won’t be pretty” apparently.  Most fights involving septuagenarians who are battling brain cancer aren’t very pretty but Trump was concerned that the American people might in fact think such a contest would be pretty so he went out of his way to tell them that it wouldn’t be.

The truth is, of course, that John McCain is currently battling The Reaper.  The Reaper always wins, and McCain surely knows this.  And knowing this means that he can afford to laugh at whatever Trump thinks he can do to him.

John McCain has become Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt.

Shakespeare’s Richard II is a sort of seventeenth-century absolute monarch trapped in the fourteenth century.  He tries to rule by divine fiat – but divine fiat is not how feudal governance…

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Watching Yellow Submarine with the boy on my Birthday.

Reposting this on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the release of Yellow Submarine.



This film was released exactly 50 years ago today, and I’m reminded of the occasion a year and a half ago when I watched it with my son on my birthday.

This viewing had a ritual feel to it.  I liked the idea of spending the occasion of my bedraggled carcass having survived another solar orbit watching a film made in the year I was born, next to my son, recalling the fact that when I as his age I regarded Yellow Submarine as the most hypnotically imaginative and deliciously strange film ever made.

There were other films made that year that were very strange, but as a boy I didn’t have the same relationship with them.

I did not watch Barbarella when I was ten.

Apparently my Dad took me to see 2001 A Space Odyssey when I was five years old or something and described my reaction to…

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The Tediousness of Donald Trump



If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s any kind of management guru.  I have no concept of any kind of overarching schema that explains what makes leadership effective or ensures that command structures are stable and enduring.  There is one thing that I have learned, however, in my limited professional experience.

Boredom is a weapon.

People with a very high boredom threshold can rule those with a lower boredom threshold.  People who can absorb repetitive and redundant institutional jargon without having their brain cells want to pull out tiny ritual Japanese swords and hurling themselves on those tiny swords are well placed to secure governance of those institutions.

Politics of often boring.  It’s not boring at the level of academic analysis – in fact it’s endlessly hypnotically fascinating at the level of analysis – but it can be very boring at the level of practical campaigning because, in the very nature of campaigning, you find yourself having to say the same thing over and over again.

Denouncing Donald Trump is especially tedious.  How many times can you keep restating the fact that he’s a disgusting and delusional race-bating serial sex offender?  How many slight rhetorical shifts of emphasis can you make?

Donald Trump is relying on the fact that he is duller than his countless enemies, and that those who want to call him out will eventually get bored with stating the bleedin’ obvious.  When everyone gets too bored to keep calling Trump a disgusting and delusional race-baiting serial sex offender then he will have won because he will have normalised himself.

Trump might have a very short attention span but this does not make him especially complex or interesting.  He’s someone who has always believed in zero sum negotiating.  He has no partners in business – only marks.  If you’re not screwing someone over, then you’re failing because someone else’s success can only be at your expense.  Hence Trump’s lifelong delight in stiffing contractors.  Stiffing contractors saves you very little money and is not good business because it jeopardises future partnerships. But if you’re Trump you need to defraud others because without the knowing that others have lost and are suffering, then you have no stable existence.  So any nation entering into a business “partnership” or “alliance” with Trump has no excuse for not knowing in advance that his purpose is to screw you over.  Geo-politically, Trump wants to wreck every partnership that has ever protected the weak against the strong.   The EU, NATO, the WTO and the UN are all to be wrecked because a world without such alliances will leave the biggest of fish to prey on everybody else.  That’s his instinct, his programme and his “philosophy”.

One of my oldest friends is the eminent dramatist and academic who tweets “Night night, you disgusting halfwit. xx” at Trump every night before he goes to bed and has done for about two years and will do until Trump is removed from office.  We all need to steel ourselves for a bit more repetition.  A world fit for our children to grow up in is contingent upon everything that Donald Trump represents being utterly discredited.

It is desperately boring to keep having to go on and on about how awful Donald Trump is.  I’d rather blog about plays and novels and movies and sunsets and cricket matches.  Indeed, in order to stay sane, to retain a healthy “hinterland” (as Denis Healey used to call it), it’s pretty much essential to blog about plays and novels and movies and sunsets and cricket matches.  But unless you engage with the Goddess Dullness, she (“Universal Anarch”) will swallow us all.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Etc. etc. etc. Dermot Bolger’s adaptation of Ulysses.



I finally caught up with this revived staging of Bolger’s staging of Joyce’s Ulysses last night.  Went and saw it with my brother in law who was visiting from Canada.  We went to see it partly because this production offers an opportunity to sit and walk on the Abbey stage – an experience which may never be repeated.

I missed this show last year.  I miss lots of shows.  But the whole show is about missing a tremendous amount and Bolger’s talent is to make you feel that you’ve experienced more of the book than you really have.  It’s a pacy production – because without dramatic pace – the cacophonous transience of Joyce’s sense of Dublin cannot be communicated.  A slower show would be more dishonest because the sense of necessary impoverishment might be compromised.

The original Irish Times review of this production asserted that every episode from the book was referenced.  This is wrong.  There is no mention of the newspaper office and no National Library discussion of Shakespeare.  But it is interesting that the reviewer instinctively imagined that every episode was covered and this in itself is a tribute to Bolger’s editing.  The same reviewer objected to the use of puppets regarding certain ideas as decidedly gimmicky.  I enjoyed them, particularly in the pub scene confrontation with the nativist “Citizen”.   David Pearse, who plays Bloom and only Bloom throughout, becomes the only full organic and human creature in the bar, surrounded by puppets who are prisoners of their own rhetoric, and whose protestations of agency are hollow.

Certain things you thought could not be represented are.  Other things you thought might be represented are not.  No biscuit tin is throw.  But we are given a representation of one off the wrist on Dollymount Strand.

The Circe episode also makes use of puppets, again illustrating the rapidity of roles and identities that this trippy nightown milieu confers.  Snippets of familiar songs are everywhere, bits of familiar tunes (mostly more familiar to us than to Joyce or Bloom) are thrown in to give a sense of rapid association and cultural clutter.  “Love me for a Reason” (popularised by Boyzone) is particular prominent in pianola snatches.

The play begins as well as ends with Molly (Janet Moran) and the first as well as the last word of the performance is “Yes”.  Molly’s bed has the most prominent and central position on the stage and Molly is anchored by this bed – either in it or virtually tethered to it.  The effect of starting with elements of Molly’s monologue is to fuse elements of Ulysses with Finnegans Wake.  Night is real while the events of the day are a story to be told.

The passion of Janet Moran is astonishing, but this production can do little to allay fears that her character is over-determined in terms of bodily needs and imperatives.  The final litany of “yesses” offers the quietest moment of the evening.  You could hear a pin drop.

Sitting on the stage (because we could) offered some pleasures, but the blocking of the play meant that we felt that we were missing out sometimes.  Bloom’s affirmation of love and peace and tolerance in Kiernan’s was very wonderful, but all we got was the back of his head.

This scene feels very timely and relevant right now.  I can’t help but think and feel that if I make it to any version of old age that young people will challenge me in the street and demand to know precisely how much I did to challenge or at least mitigate the viciousness of the age in which we live.  And if they throw stuff at me -as they’ll have every right to do – I’ll be lucky to get away with just a biscuit tin.

In the middle of it all… Laurel and Hardy in Hollywood Party (1934)



I’ll be honest with you, I’ve only seen extracts of this extraordinary film, and I wouldn’t have seen those extracts if I wasn’t a dedicated Laurel and Hardy completist.   Hollywood Party is an astonishing revue comedy song and dance film made at the height of the Great Depression.  It is such a bizarre, inventive and excessive celebration of bling and conspicuous consumption that it sort of transcends bad taste and feels more like a carefully crafted incitement to proletarian revolution.  There’s a “Last Days of Pompeii” feel to this movie, a kind of swirling desperation that makes you feel that some kind of apocalypse of nigh – if not long overdue.

Jimmy Durante hosts, along with Lupe Vélez.  There are dancers upon dancers, pianos upon pianos and more high kicking party goers than you ever thought Southern California could accommodate.  There is also a full colour animated sequence by Disney called “The Hot Choc-late Soldiers” which offers a perfect example of 1930s animated  unheimlich which sings the story of an aggressive war of conquest by chocolate soldiers upon gingerbread men culminating with the melting of the entire cast.  Oh, and the Three Stooges are in Hollywood Party too.

Stan and Ollie have an extended altercation with Latin diva Lupe Vélez which culminates in a carefully timed and very slow tit for tat egg battle.  They would repeat this routine, with perhaps less success, a decade later in their very late film, The Bullfighters.  Lupe hits Ollie very hard on the head with her shoe for no very obvious reason and so Stan and Ollie join forces against Lupe, who is more than a match for them.  The best moment is when a raw egg goes down the front of Ollie’s pants.  The camera is content to silently monitor the slow progression of sensations on Ollie’s face as the raw egg makes its slow and cold journey down Ollie’s lower half.  Ollie’s face is doing all the comedic work here.  Stan and Ollie do, however, eventually succeed in tricking Lupe into sitting on an egg – which is some consolation.  They are then chased from the bar by an angry mob, which is only repelled by releasing a lion.

It’s that sort of film.

In short, I think it’s my fave Stan and Ollie MGM movie.

I’ve some thoughts about some other Laurel and Hardy movies.


Oliver the Eighth:
Sons of the Desert

Dirty Work:

Wild Poses:

Busy Bodies:

The Midnight Patrol:

The Devil’s Brother

Me and my Pal

Twice Two:

Towed in a Hole:

Their First Mistake:

Pack Up Your Troubles


County Hospital:

The Chimp:

The Music Box:

Any Old Port:


“On the Loose”:

Beau Hunks:

One Good Turn:

Come Clean:

Pardon Us:

Laughing Gravy:

The Stolen Jools:

Chickens Come Home:

Be Big:

Another Fine Mess:

The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case

Hog Wild

Below Zero:



Here is Night Owls:


Angora Love:

The Hoose Gow:

They Go Boom:

Perfect Day:

Men O’ War:


Unaccustomed as We are Are:

Bacon Grabbers:

Double Whoopee:

Big Business:

That’s My Wife:

Wrong Again:


We Faw Down:

Habeas Corpus:

Two Tars:

Early to Bed:

Should Married Men Go Home?:

Their Purple Moment:

You’re Darn Tootin’:

From Soup to Nuts:

Leave em Laughing:

Battle of the Century:

Putting Pants on Philip:

Hats Off:

Call of the Cuckoo:

The Second Hundred Years:

Flying Elephants:

Sugar Daddies:

Do Detectives Think?

Sailors Beware!:

With Love and Hisses:

Love ‘Em and Weep:

Slipping Wives:

45 Minutes from Hollywood:

Duck Soup:

The Lucky Dog:

The worst human being to be political leader of the most powerful nation in the world in anybody’s lifetime. Anybody who is still alive. Why people protest.


The most disgusting and dangerous person ever to be leader of the world’s most powerful nation in any currently still alive person’s lifetime.

It’s worth saying this over and over again.  There have been plenty of hideous tyrants around the world since oooh let’s say 1900 but NONE of them have been rulers of what could be unambiguously described as the world’s most powerful nation.

If you don’t wake up each morning and shudder at thought of Donald Trump as POTUS, then there is something wrong with you.

I know there’s something wrong with all of us. There’s a lot of things that are very wrong with me – and I like to think that I’m working on some of those things.  But if you don’t find Trump as POTUS repugnant and terrifying, then there’s at least one seriously wrong thing with you that you yourself need to work on as a matter of some urgency.

Why are people protesting the Trump visit?   The answer is not really an “answer” at all, but rather something far more intuitive and visceral.  I’ve been on any number of demonstrations.  Some seemed to have no policy influence that I can think of – some had very direct policy implications and most were simply part of larger and more complex shift in public opinion.  We protested, against this that and the other, because fundamentally we had to.  And there is something about this disgusting and delusional race-baiting serial sex offender being flattered and honoured by the so-called “great and the good” that creates an almost biological imperative to protest.  You’re just saying – “I dissent and so do many many others”.  Telling people NOT to protest the Trump visit is to tell people not to do something that feels as natural and necessary as breathing.

There’s also the question of national self respect.  Trump goes around insulting the USA’s democratic allies while flattering dictators who oppress their own (and other) people.  He has just started a globally (and self) destructive trade war.   There are those who say that now that Britain is leaving the EU, Britain needs a good relationship with Donald Trump and that “we” need to be nice to him.  In other words, having abandoned a stable political and economic alliance governed by law and treaty, Britain has no choice but to flatter the whims of an abusive narcissist who lies and contradicts himself shamelessly.  A nation that absolutely compelled to be nice to Donald Trump has exhausted the bare minimum of rational self respect required to deserve to exist.

And then there’s posterity.  If there’s a viable future for humanity in the mid to late twenty-first century, then Trump and his ilk will have been utterly discredited.  The politics of xenophobia and climate change denial may destroy us all and we have to believe in a world in which reconciliation, tolerance, reason, and responsible science end up winning.  For this to happen, generations (soon) to come will have to see Donald J. Trump as an appalling warning not as a hero.

Within a decade, all of those who have enabled and justified Trump will be busy either apologising for having done so or denying they ever did.  For decades to come, Grandchildren will ask grandparents whether or not they protested Donald Trump.

I’m not in London during this Trump visit.  Trump has been invited to visit Ireland.  There’s a big difference between issuing an open ending invitation and actually scheduling it and I tend to think that Trump will be conveniently and joyously gone before any such scheduling can take place.  If he does arrive here, then the Irish people (at least an overwhelming and decisive majority of the Irish people) will find a creative and pointed way of making their rejection of Trump and everything he stands for crystal clear.

Right now though, I’m imagining myself as wrinkly creature being addressed by a bright eyed child some time in the 2040s, a child who inhabits a better world than this?

“But Grandad… YOU spoke up against Trump didn’t you?  Tell me YOU did?  Oh is that what you did?  Grandad – did you really think that was ENOUGH?….”

Up in the Gallery: The Happy Prince Reviewed.


Have you ever had a song that you’ve sort of known all your life which you’ve cherished had an idiosyncratic interpretation of that you assumed that everyone else shared?

Of course you have.  Just such a song is “The Boy I love is up in the Gallery”, which was a massive hit for Marie Lloyd in the late nineteenth century.  I’ve always known this song, because it’s a staple of “Good Old Days” type music hall revival nights and because it’s the sort of song that lovely lovely old ladies at extended family gatherings could be persuaded to perform for as long as my I can remember.  Now for some reason, I always assumed that the boy in question was not only up in the gallery in the sense of being only able to afford the cheapest, loftiest part of the theatre, but was also, dead, and looking down on his surviving girlfriend from a celestial gallery.

I think it’s because of the poignant way in which “there he is – can’t you see” was always sung – giving the impression that the singer can see something or someone that nobody else can.

I’ve recently taken the trouble to read the lyrics properly and I can confirm that there are no grounds whatsoever for my understanding of the song and that I’ve been experiencing this lovely little song in a little world all of my own.  I still prefer my misreading of the song to the clear and obvious reading of it.  I feel a bit robbed and impoverished by my recent demystification.

But I was reminded of the song of course, because Rupert Everett sings it while playing Oscar Wilde near the beginning of his extraordinary film The Happy Prince.  He sings it in a Parisian dive as a way of atoning for having helped to instigate a rather nasty fight.  To recreate the delicious comedy of having a world famous playwright perform in this fashion, you would have to imagine David Mamet jumping on a table in a Chicago bar to belt out  “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga.  (Do please contact me with details and video footage if this has ever happened.)

Yes, I’ve seen The Happy Prince.  I was worried, perhaps rather ungraciously, before seeing this film that Rupert Everett was too old to play any version of Wilde.  In fact, the “too oldness” is turned into a cinematic opportunity.

Because this is a film that demands to be seen on a big screen.  Wilde’s face is enormous.  Wilde was a big man.  You need to experience Wilde’s face as a vast and overwhelming landscape – an epic setting in itself.  The film takes us from Wilde’s arrival in France, to his reconciliation with Bosie, to a rare ol’ decadent time in Naples, to his final dissolution in Paris.  As the film opens, you experience, with some shock, that Wilde’s utter destruction did not seem inevitable to his closest friends Ross and Turner.  He had contacts, he had some money and he had some sense of humour.  Some kind of worthwhile and creative existence seemed possible.

In some ways the film schematises – perhaps too much – the opposition between Ross and Bosie as a clash between two different kinds of love that are unknowable to one another – one careful and generous and the other passionate and reckless.  Wilde needed both, it seemed.  Rupert Everett is sublime as he inhabits and performs these urgent imperatives.

Along with its exploration of Wilde’s face, the camera does extraordinary things with Bosie’s face.  The face of Colin Morgan as it emerges through the steam of Rouen railway station is one of the most hypnotically evil things I’ve ever seen in a cinema.  The whole scene feels like a bizarre parody of the final moments of The Railway Children.  Morgan’s Bosie feels like someone who should not be able to walk about in Neapolitan daylight or consume garlic.

Back in Paris, Wilde befriends two boys, while recalling his own two boys.  He takes the older (much older) brother as a lover and tries to satisfy the young boy’s love of stories.  The story of the Happy Prince is the tale of the pain and sacrifice of love and the impossibility of not recklessly giving everything for love.  There has to be another and a better world where such pain is recognised and rewarded.  As a child I found the happy prince story almost unbearable and the only thing that made this fairy tale bearable was reminding myself that Wilde’s story of “The Nightingale and the Rose” was even more unbearable.

Wilde’s need for religion is treated seriously.  The idea of making the ultimate sacrifice figured strongly in his imagination, sometimes in homoerotic terms and sometimes not.  Father Dunne, who administered extreme unction at Wilde’s deathbed is played marvelously by Tom Wilkinson and he is treated humorously but not unsympathetically.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves, doesn’t he?  The oscillation between self-sacrificing love and selfish destructive love and the confusion between the two is at the heart of the story that Everett wants to tell.  And the film is also grounded by the perpetual need for money it depicts.  The nagging, aching, paralysis caused by an inability to stretch funds to the end of any given week or month is a theme that the nineteenth century dealt with more often and more often than the twentieth century does – although it is a theme of timeless relevance.

So go and see this film, if you can still find a big screen that is showing it.  This is not a film about witticisms – though witticisms there are. This film shows that death is about humiliation and poverty and vomit.  And yes, still seeing the stars through all of it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about wallpaper recently.  It is fascinating that Charlotte Gilman Perkins was writing about horrible wallpaper just as Wilde was fighting to the death with his own horrible wallpaper.  When Bosie really wants to hurt Wilde, he attacks Wilde as a writer – suggesting that Wilde a creature of surfaces – someone who offers layers with no substance – and that nothing lies beneath.   As Wilde, debilitated by cocaine and absinthe, stares into flaky wallpaper, we consider our own love of literature and wonder whether truth resides in some ultimate referential content attached to words or in the music and choreography of the juxtaposition of words?

What is more truthful – to live earnestly or to live playfully?

Personally I love steaming and scraping away wallpaper.  It’s one of the few DIY jobs I find aesthetically satisfying. It’s a job I never quite want to end.

Go see the film.