Date Reviewed:
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18th September 2009

Summary:

Oliver Parker paints a vivid picture of Dorian Gray in this rich, sweeping adaptation of Oscar Wilde's classic novel.


Originally brought to the big screen in 1970, Dorian Gray follows the pursuits of a breathtakingly beautiful young man (Ben Barnes) whose portrait is painted by artist Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin). Soon after, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton (Colin Firth), a charismatic socialite who believes in nothing more than the pursuit of beauty and sensual pleasures. On hearing this, Dorian proclaims that he will remain exactly as he appears in the painting, pledging to sacrifice anything - even his soul - if the portrait will grow old instead of himself. So Dorian begins a life of debauchery and, as he wished, each sin is meted out on the picture as ghastly physical disfigurements. But while Dorian's appearance remains youthful and flawless, his soul cannot escape the consequences of his depraved actions...

Review:

I have never read the Oscar Wylde book upon which this film is based. I'm quite sure that many fans of the book will pick this film apart for whatever liberties it may have taken with the source material. I judge it purely on its cinematic merit.

For those who are unaware Dorian Gray is the story of a man who's soul becomes trapped inside his painted portrait. As a result, he stays young and beautiful forever, while his painted self grows old and decays. The lengths that Dorian goes to in order to keep all of this a secret lead him to murder.

I was not really expecting to like this film. I had read some bad reviews for it and the trailer was not entirely inspiring. But Colin Firth is always watchable and Ben Barnes has shown a fair amount of promise with his roles in Prince Caspian and Easy Virtue. He manages to take on the title role here with enough conviction to make me believe that he is still worth watching in the future. However, the role of Dorian Gray does seem to be somewhat underwritten throughout, as the rush to move the film forward toward the darker elements of the story is all too evident.

One of the more tragic elements of the story, Sybal's suicide, does not hit quite as hard as it should. This is again due to a script that appears to want to get through her relationship with Dorian as quickly as possible so that they can get to the 'good stuff'. Dorian's fall from grace would have had a much greater impact if the relationship between him and Sybal had been treated with more care and attention.

That aside, the rest of the film is entertaining. The visuals conjure up just the right amount of atmosphere, and there are some nice uses of sound, constantly building anticipation toward a final glimpse of the decaying picture of Dorian Gray.

Though you should be warned, there is plenty of debauchery on show here, as Dorian descends into a world of desire and the pursuits of pleasure. Some of this stuff will not be to everyone's taste, mine included, but if you can get past it then you will find a story about the corrupting nature of sin. Or at least I did anyway!

This certainly won't be for everyone, and it is by no means a classic, but if you've never read the book and you are a little curious as to what all the fuss is about, then this could peak your interest. Alternatively, you could just read the book!