Director: Oliver Parker
Cast: Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Rebecca Hall
Watch Dorian Gray online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Dorian Gray is the dark tale of a man (Barnes), who, enchanted by his own good looks and influenced by the self-indulgent aristocrat Lord Henry (Firth), pledges his soul for eternal youth. This wish is magically granted, and what follows is a life full of hedonistic pleasures that catapults Gray into a depraved and reckless world, which wreaks havoc on the life of others, as well as his enchanted portrait – a portrait that ages and decays while he does not.
On paper, the story is engrossing, coming to life with Oscar Wilde’s sharp eye and snapping wit. On screen, it doesn’t translate so well. Although the darkness of the tale is captured in every shadowy shot, you can’t help being bewildered by the uneven pace and lack of scope. Dorian’s road to decay is less of a smooth one, and more of a country road, which occasionally gets a little bit jittery around corners. The uneasy feeling isn’t helped when the main driver is Ben Barnes, who, at times, dazzles with his (sometimes too) youthful looks and charming smile, and, at others, seems out of place, especially in the ‘raunchy’ sex scenes.
The movie’s other major snag is its misuse of the talented Rebecca Hall, who introduces a new character to the mix. Lord Henry’s daughter initially seems a clever twist on the story, but ultimately appears to be an act of randomness, which will make die hard Wilde fans hot under the book cover.
That’s not to say Dorian doesn’t have its merits. Colin Firth’s dangerous aristocrat is surprisingly menacing; it’s easy to see how he seduces the young man. The film is also beautiful to watch, with director Parker making strong use of his period setting. The portrait, too, starts with great potential, its grotesque ageing incorporating maggots as well as seeping wounds. But even this ends up a scowling cartoon character, rather than a deformed soul.
The tale of despair felt by those seeking eternal youth is not a new concept to a modern audience – who knows how many portraits that, say, Madonna has stashed away? – so it seems slightly odd that this chooses to distance itself with its age and lack of moral grounding.
Dorian Gray is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.
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