Paint like Blood: Dorian Gray: The Movie (2009)

Image via Google- Ben Barnes and that infamous painting…before it all goes HORRIBLY wrong…

Last night I watched the 2009 film, Dorian Gray, starring Ben Barnes in the titular role, based around Oscar Wilde’s work- and arguably Wilde’s masterpiece. Although Barnes wasn’t exactly my version of Dorian- I would have preferred him more effeminate and ethereal, a little like Stephen Tennant– he certainly attacked the role with verve- grinning and dancing and fornicating through Whitechapel- no Ripper references, really?– encouraged and abetted by decadent aristocrat, Henry  ‘Harry’ Wotton (Colin Firth in what appears to be eyeliner)  to some extent, the painter of his portrait, the talented and clever Basil Hallwood (the sadly underused Ben Chaplin- why wasn’t there more of him, and his jaunty yellow scarf?)

 Ben Chaplin as lovelorn, witty Basil Hallwood

Dorian’s soul gradually crumbles under a glut of prostitutes, swooning ladies, drugs (even heroin- an interesting addition) and endless tumblers of gins, while his portrait breeds maggots and seeps blood. Not even the- albeit rather insipid- devotion of his innocent paramour, Sybil Vane (a blink-and-you-miss-her Rebecca Hall) can save him. It’s a sexy, Gothic-inspired film, with draughty, dark halls, creepy attic rooms and various interesting motifs- a shattered mirror, a dilapidated attic door within its own ‘potrait’ frame of dark wood, drops of paint resembling fresh blood. But for me the real allure was in the homoerotic relationship between Dorian and Basil, which I don’t think was taken far enough. Their kiss was arguably the most passionate and taboo moment in the whole film, even for all its corset-ripping and stocking-stroking: made all the more passionate by the sheer want reflected in Basil’s eyes- and his tragic, bloody death hours later in the shadowy attic room. Would it be too much to ask for a gay version of Dorian Gray? Surely that would be giving free rein to the latent homoeroticism of Dorian, Basil and even Henry himself- suggested in various lingering stares and hand-strokes. I felt that was what was really needed to make this film sing- otherwise, it just mumbles, laughs bawdily, and then blushes behind its fan coyly.

Overall rating: 7 out of 10.

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