The importance of being Oscar to Rupert Everett

It has taken him a decade to bring Oscar Wilde’s story to the big screen, but Rupert Everett’s Oscar is being tipped for Oscars success.

An Oscar for Oscar, he smiles as he says the words, when we meet in Wiltshire during a whirlwind European tour to promote the film he wrote, directed and starred in.

The Happy Prince is the first big screen film to tell the story of what happened at the end of Oscar Wilde's life after the celebrated playwright was released from prison and was living in exile in Italy and France.

He'd been sentenced to two years' hard labour in 1895, found guilty of homosexual crimes, the writer perhaps the most famous of the gay men convicted under a now-abolished law.

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Everett had originally wanted to make the film to revive his own career, saying he'd stopped getting offered good roles. But he realised the film's subject was one he could tell with understanding, as a gay man himself, albeit in different times.

What happened to Oscar Wilde is an important part of the journey to where gay rights are now, he says.

Wilde died aged 46, broke and in disgrace, in Paris in 1900. The film's closing titles reveal how the writer was amongst tens of thousands of gay men posthumously pardoned by the British authorities last year.

Everett is indignant, saying the "hypocritical" gesture fails to go far enough for Wilde and the others pardoned.

"I think it’s a typical last fart of British hypocrisy really, because a pardon is not what Wilde needs. He needs an apology and possibly some money for his grandchildren," he said.

"A pardon means the crime still exists, so it’s completely wrong."

Oscar Wilde was lauded for his art, but died in disgrace after being convicted for homosexual relationships. Credit: PA

His film, named after one of Wilde's children's stories, is heartbreaking at times, showing the writer being spat at and abused by outraged Victorian society.

He wants Wilde's story to reach more people, and hopes his film will help do that.

He points at the countries in the world where homosexuality remains a crime, at countries like Syria where it is still punishable by death. He is horrified at the anti-gay legislation brought in in Russia in recent years, at the small communities hidden from the media's eye, where gay people are assaulted and vilified.

The Happy Prince, then, is his labour of love.

It may have been a sometimes agonising process, including getting the film financed, and securing a cast that includes Colin Firth. But his performance as Wilde, has already won huge critical acclaim.

The blood, sweat and tears may all have been worth it.

  • The Happy Prince is released in the UK on June 15