British Cinema: Dorian Gray (2009)

Dorian Gray, 2009.

Directed by Oliver Parker.
Starring Ben Barnes and Colin Firth.

Dorian Gray poster

Think Peter Pan meets Dr Faustus – oh, and a painting – and a lot of maggots…

Dorian Gray - Portrait
Another devil and soul barter! Why is this absurd premise attractive and a plot of many stories? It’s set to feature in Terry Gilliam’s next [Heath Ledger posthumous] adventure, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, also out soon. This Faustian theme does not appeal, and neither does the beauty and youth worship behind the eponymous portrait that absorbs its subjects growingly sinister nature – and why is ‘the portrait’ missing from the title, as if film audiences can’t cope with more than a person’s name?

As I grow older (which isn’t very) I increasingly see the attraction in the twinkle of a mature citizen’s eyes, in the lines of age. Dorian isn’t handsome – only in that supposed classical perfection; he’s very boyish, and not charismatic. And unlike Dorian, I am happy to age and change.

So I am bored and in disagreement by the very hypothesis behind this tale to start with. I totally disagree with the blurb on Matthew Bourne’s balletic take on the book, which says that the themes of the corruption of beauty are ‘never more contemporary.’ The cynicism of Dorian’s friend Lord Henry and his supposed intelligent, shocking platitudes were so stupid and negative that they are unworthy of the presumably desired debate they are meant to incite.

I was ready for something deeper than the source level emotions and innocuous wit of Oscar Wilde’s plays, but this is a horror story. The sex becomes darker and mixes with the bloodier elements which begin from the first scene. There’s nothing more moving and deep here than in Wilde’s lighter works. Debauchery is too cold to be enticing and the true loves and friendships are not convincingly important enough for me to care.

I don’t know the book, but glancing at it, this rendition has upped the horror into almost camp. The over loud sound of a maggoty fiend in the portrait becomes a special effects showcase, but this is one of the few times when I agree with cinema’s overused maxim ‘less is more’. The climax is made into a greater crescendo than the book, but its augmentation simply becomes overkill to the point of silliness.

Elspeth Rushbrook