DIR: Oliver Parker • WRI: Toby Finlay • PRO: Barnaby Thompson • DOP: Roger Pratt • ED: Guy Bensley • DES: John Beard • CAST: Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Ben Chaplin, Rebecca Hall
Yet another adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic tale of supernatural narcissism, Dorian Gray tells the story of an extraordinarily handsome young man who inherits his grandfather’s valuable estate and finds freedom in a decadent society that craves to exploit his innocence. Upon arriving in London he soon becomes the subject of a portrait by artist Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin) and makes the acquaintance of the witty Lord Henry (Colin Firth), who consistently and eloquently encourages Dorian to pursue a life of thoughtless indifference and reckless pleasure. After the success of the portrait, Dorian weds a young actress – yet quickly betrays her, with consequences most dire, which he has somehow learned to disregard. Indeed, any possible repercussions for his increasingly heinous deeds are not felt by our leading man – as he develops a lust for attention, pathologically exploiting the desires of those around him while inexplicably never losing his youthful looks. However, with every reckless act of debauchery committed, the portrait on the wall becomes ever-so-slightly more disfigured – until years later as Dorian retains his youthful looks it resembles a man so hideous as to mirror the depraved state of his soul… or something like that.
Director Oliver Parker drenches this piece in lavish yet heavy-handed Gothic atmosphere, indulging occasionally in electro-synth and blatant CGI that does not inspire confidence in his vision of the story – which is one that lacks any deliberate flourishes whatsoever. The initial promise of the first act descends into a series of absurd situations strewn together by truly shoddy editing, providing little incentive for audiences to care about this preening egomaniac. Ben Barnes is suitably vacuous in the leading role, playing the hedonistic pretty-boy without a hint of irony – as an exercise in calculated charisma he excels, but without any extra layer of genuine emotion the performance doesn’t hold much merit. Elsewhere Firth and Chaplin are well-cast and amusing in their roles but are left hanging by a weak screenplay. The supporting players also feature the dependable Fiona Shaw as Lord Henry’s jovial aunt while rising star Rebecca Hall is relegated to an afterthought of a love interest. Unfortunately, on the whole, this film does not deliver. Even as the somewhat trashy middle-brow version for contemporary teens it pertains to be, as it plods to a weak finale that barely makes an impact, partly due to the less than stellar production values, but mostly due to the failure of the screenplay to adequately raise the stakes. So, hardly worth catching on the gimmicky release date, but perhaps a camp guilty pleasure to catch on the box some Halloween.
(See biog here)