Dorian Gray

Thought I’d actually review a new film in the midst of catching up on the old ones I’ve seen recently- especially as it is one you could easily miss amongst all the District 9s and Ugly Truths…

Dorian Gray (2009)

On the way back from seeing Dorian Gray, I was having a discussion about Angels & Demons (a film which I have yet to see) after asking what it was like. After the general consensus that it was shit, we thought about possible reasons for said shittiness. The most interesting point was that it would be hard to convey the author’s words and images through a film. Fuck, if they can’t do it for Dan “Hack” Brown, what chance does a film based on the writings of Oscar Wilde have? Turns out, rather a fair one.

“You have the only two things worth having: looks and youth.”

Based on the classic 1891 novel by Oscar Wilde, the film follows the life of the eponymous Dorian Gray (Ben Barnes) as he falls in love with a hedonistic lifestyle introduced to him by Lord Wotton (Colin Firth). Artist Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin) paints a picture of Gray to immortalise the beauty of him, but the painting soon becomes to represent something more as Gray wishes he would stay that way and never age. As a result, the painting becomes uglier and older whilst leaving Gray unblemished and youthful. I’m obviously not going to bash the story as it is a genuine literary classic and is a story I’ve loved ever since I read it, but what I can judge is whether the film portrayed the story well enough to deserve the Dorian Gray title. Ben Barnes and Colin Firth were both great (Barnes proving he’s one to look out for in the future) as were the cast in general. The problem wasn’t with the acting at all. Everyone put in good, solid performances.

Acting aside, the rest of the film felt a bit flat at times. Most of these things were to do with the needless additions to the story. For some reason, they decided to give Wotton a daughter and have her fall in love with Gray near the end of the film to add “emotional punch”. What it actually does is detract from the main drama, rather than add to it (I must say that Rebecca Hall was brilliant as her, though) I was happy with some of the other additions, especially the ones further exploring Gray’s hedonism as some of things in Wilde’s source novel seem quite tame by today’s standards. It does get a bit Eyes Wide Shut at times though.

The cinematography of Olde London was great and actually made me proud to be sitting there watching a British film. I’m not xenophobic or anything, it’s just that British cinema in general has fallen into a river of shite and has struggled to get out for quite a while. It’s nice to feel that by watching a film, you’re contributing to a worthy cause, rather than an international landfill full of obscene amounts of money.

The one thing than bugged me about Dorian Gray was the painting itself. It should be terrifying, rather than just unnerving. The decision to use CGI for the demonic painting wasn’t a very good one in my book. CGI, unless done very, very well is soulless- the exact opposite of what the painting should represent. It doesn’t look terrible or anything -just mildly creepy. It should be must more that just creepy- it should be shit-your-pants scary.

“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about!”

Dorian Gray is a decent film. It’s got a fantastic cast, some great dialogue and a genuinely creepy atmosphere. It’s good, just not a classic adaptation of a classic.

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