Forbidden Passion (1985)

To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

Forbidden Passion (AKA Oscar) a made-for-British television film concerns the relationship between Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas. When the film begins, Wilde (Michael Gambon) is married to a sweet, loving wife, has two young sons, and his future looks promising. Wilde is introduced by friends to the young Lord Douglas (Robin Lermitte).

Gambon plays a marvelous Oscar Wilde. While he physically looks ideal for the role, he also conveys Wilde’s barbed wit to perfection. Wilde is seen as a man who’s admired and respected in his social circle, and yet behind the drawing room smiles and repartee, hints are dropped to Mrs. Wilde, Constance (Emily Richard) about her husband.

The atmosphere of silent, only vaguely acknowledged disapproval about Wilde explodes when the unpleasant Marquis of Queensberry (Norman Rodway), Lord Douglas’s Neanderthal father begins to object to his son’s relationship with the famous playwright. While Queensberry labours under the belief that his son has been polluted and perverted by Wilde, we see that Douglas tends to manipulate Wilde, and fuels the explosive situation with his father. Wilde’s tumultuous relationship with Lord Alfred proves, at times, to be too much for Wilde, and he objects, upon occasion, to Lord Alfred’s willful, peevish ways.

All of Wilde’s friends realize that the situation between Wilde, Douglas and Queensberry is earmarked for disaster, but in spite of the best advice, Wilde plunges into a libel suit against Queensberry, and this is a disastrous move. A fair portion of the film is given over to the trials–Wilde’s libel suit against Queensberry, and the subsequent trials for Gross Indecency. These scenes in the courtroom are very accurate, and relate the trickier, more controversial moments of the trials. Wilde entertains in the courtroom, but then he’s tripped up by his own wit when questioned at length.

With remarkable attention to detail (right down to Queensberry’s calling card which states that Wilde is a sodomite) the film follows Wilde’s ignoble fall from society, through prison and later to exile in France. Gambon portrays Wilde elegantly and yet with the flaw of ego–a flaw that led him to pursue the lawsuit in the first place. The film is full of Wilde’s rapier wit, and Wilde is seen a man who considered himself invulnerable to society’s crushing standards. But in the end, Wilde’s wit and intelligence cannot save him from destruction.

This BBC film was originally a three part television series, but all three parts run together very smoothly on my VHS tape. If you are a fan of Wilde’s then Forbidden Passion, directed by Henry Herbert is a film you’ll want to track down.

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Filed under British television, Period Piece

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