Director: Oliver Parker Release Date: 9 September Review by Robert Haughton We all know the fable of Dorian Gray and our imaginings of a corrupt soul on a canvas can be pretty scary. So Oliver Parker offers up his nightmare and I’m sorry to say it scared me for all the wrong reasons. Dorian (Ben Barnes) is a dapper young man from the country who inherits an estate in London. Debuting in 19th Century society, his beauty attracts the attentions of painter Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin) and his naivety make hedonist Lord Henry Wotton (Colin Firth) come running. A portrait of Dorian is made and the gent is drawn into life’s pleasures. Selling his soul to keep his youth Dorian indulges in vice while the painting takes the corruption from his visage. Driving an equally naïve fiancé Sybil (Rachel Hurd-Wood) to suicide and having more orgies than Caligula, Dorian ends up murdering Basil. Eighteen years later and haunted by a full life of vice, Dorian descends into madness and tries to destroy the hideous beast in the painting i.e. his soul. Firstly, let’s call out the elephant in the room: this is based on The Picture Of Dorian Gray. I’m a firm fan of Wilde so I tried to suspend my bias during the film. Unfortunately, the film has to ask the audience to forget Wilde’s only gift to the Gothic horror canon and put the well-known cautionary tale of Dorian Gray out of their minds to enjoy it. There are notable changes, such as the inclusion of a strong female suffragette (Emily) and the entire ending. I can honestly say that the film is quite enjoyable if you want to sit back for a couple of hours and switch off. The setting is gorgeous and the feel of the film is superb. From bright façades of the West-End to the dank and cankerous parts of St Giles, god is in the details. You can see industrialisation start to darken the stones of the houses and Dorian’s house oozes richness. As the movie skips eighteen years we see the changes in fashion and technology. Dorian by contrast seems a little eccentric with his old cravats and cane at this point, a nice touch. A recurring problem I had during the film was the overt display of Dorian’s indulgences. Parker has made a good effort in previous films such as The Importance of Being Earnest, but Dorian Gray seems a little too deliberate. Admittedly, Earnest was initially a play and so the visuals were already in place. Dorian Gray should follow a different route. The book often insinuates Dorian’s misdemeanours and internalises the character. Parker opted to show everything Dorian does without really diving into the soul of Mr Gray, which ironically is what the whole story is about. The film soon descends into a feast for the eyes without offering any nutritional value for the mind. Enjoyable as it is to watch a man fall from grace and into the many arms of lovers, I wanted to see the effect on Dorian himself rather than the canvas. The main enjoyment of Dorian Gray lies in his nearest friends, Basil and Henry, played exceptionally well by Ben Chaplin and Colin Firth. Basil is the sensitive friend seeing to keep Dorian as pure as his portrait. A rather submissive character that is a wet blanket at times, Chaplin plays him with an immense compassionate edge to the character and an unease that is took from the books homoerotic tone. Parker deciding to act upon the homosexual undercurrent unfortunately sullies this theme. When Dorian starts to unbutton himself for Basil I almost burst out laughing to save from crying. Lord Henry stopped the tears often. Firth dominates the film with his morally duplicitous charm and ability to roll through an amazing amount of Wilde witticisms. I can safely say that Firth is one of the few reasons to watch the film. Why? Because the real bugbear of the film is Dorian, played by an irksome wooden plank called Ben Barnes. No matter what the script or story throws at him, searching for depth in his portrayal will only yield splinters. He’s not the worst screen tragedy to be named Dorian Gray. Remember The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (We do not speak of Stephen Norrington movies on The 405! – KS ) The unfortunate thing is as much as we loathe the tacked-on arrogance of the caddish League’s Dorian, we still feel more emotional response than Barnes’ attempt. By the end of the film I couldn’t give a flying fuck if Dorian would set right his wrongs. His blandness and inability to show us his torment set him beyond redemption. Dorian Gray’ fails to really capture what is scary about original story, our imaginations. While that canvas is covered we imagine the horrors underneath. The same should be said of the film. By showing us in detail Dorian’s fall from grace we simply watch him fall. If this film had more subtlety or introspection and less eye candy substitute, we would fall with him.