Dorian Gray (Oliver Parker, 2009)

“You have the only two things worth having: youth and beauty”


I reckon had Jo not managed to win a competition to the preview, press screening of Dorian Gray I would never have seen it. Having watched it though, there are a interesting points to make. We all know the story – picture shows the true character of a person who keeps the same youthful and beautiful look while committing every moral sin possible.

Not to mention, while at the screening, we saw Kim Newman. Kim-fucking-Newman. What a legend. Reviewer of films for Sight and Sound and Empire amongst other magazines. I went up to him and told him that, well, I thought he was cool because he reviewed the Saw movies – especially Saw V without scathing hatred, mentioning the likes of Edgar Allen Poe as an influence. Good for him. I wrote down my name without any spaces and told him that, if he typed it into google this site should come up. I checked afterwards and, well, it doesn’t … so … opportunity lost. Mental note – I must know this websites URL! Anyway, the movie itself …

What I reckon …

It starts off as Dorain (Ben Barnes) arrives in London – a completely grey, CGI backdrop as Dorian looks in awe at the city. A city, which doesn’t look as great as it has in other films. The deep bass strings are reminiscient of James Newton-Howard’s scores so the tone of the movie is comfortable but the film never does seem to pull-off the credability and emotional journey it should take you on.

Wotton (Colin Firth) is the man who influences Dorian Gray the most – with a live-for-the-day attitude. He appears to despise marriage and enjoys drugs, drink and sex… a world which Dorian is soon accustomed to. Early on, Wotton tells Dorian he has what every man wants – “Youth and beauty” (opposed to the strange don’t-want-to-look-gay change to the trailer, whereby he says Youth and ‘looks’) and Dorian exploits this in every possible way. The script is brilliant – especially considering its the first screenplay Toby Finlay has written, which makes Ben Barnes bored and flat delivery that much more of a shame. The direction sometimes changes from this grey London smooth shooting to warm slow pans of the sexual moves – you can see it in the trailer and its the same every time. Not a chance to show a shot of Dorian showing remorse? No, why do that when we can just assume he is evil. I personally always felt that the interesting fact of Dorian is that he is human – to some extent, as a young man, we all want to do what he does – but we don’t because we don’t want to suffer the consequences. Maybe if Parker considered visually showing this human side, it might have been more interesting. Then again, maybe that was beyond Barnes acting abilities.

Thing is, I saw a trailer prior to District 9 which did seem to show a good film – some really great sequences and lines. Reminding me that, for one, Rebecca Hall is great – Wotton’s daughter who, by chance, is a photographer (a character created by the script writer opposed to being a creation of Oscar Wilde). Wouldn’t there have been an opportunity to have her photo’s reveal the true Dorian … and this leads to some unneccessary murder (akin to his painter buddy), getting close to insanity and, boom, he is brought down somehow. Nope. That doesn’t happen, someone finds out about the picture and the big scary moving, strangely wriggling and CGI-mess that the picture is gets burnt and Dorian is locked away with it to burn with it. No depth, no meaning – just unlucky really. Found out and caught out and thus, dies. He doesn’t regret at any point – he appears as if he may regret but never admits defeat. So, yeah, he is just evil.

Dorian at one point even travels the world apparently – but alas, we only see London and never witness what could have been the best part of the film. I assume it would have spoiled the mood but to think that we could of ventured out of dull not-so-gothic London and seen an exciting world – and how Dorian might be worse than a drug-infested, drunk whore – maybe a bit more murder and whatever could have shifted the pace while also showing how deep his evil runs. Then again, if I was to do it, I’d rather keep him as a young man who has just been influenced easily.

To finish, there is a quote that Dorian states about Happiness and Pleasure not being the same thing – and I liked this. I liked how he did realise his – ultimately fatal – flaws. How his greed for pleasure, affected his happiness. But this was, like most of the film, a factor never resolved. As if the small seeds of promise were planted but never fully explored. Happiness and pleasure aren’t the same thing – and could we have seen Dorian attempt to be happy – to attempt to push away his vices but cave. Clearly no room for that in this adaptation. To top the whole thing off, Parker does an unneccessary non-linear structure – showing us see Dorian killing the artist who created the picture during the opening (we don’t know who it is at this point) and then one hour-or-so into the film, its revealed who it is. I mean, we know he is evil, and following this act there evidence for how horrible he becomes is showing him engaging in S&M. Heaven forbid – not leather! He see’s himself as God, but does not eplore the Godlike attitudes he appears to impersonate. He kills Basil, thats a turning point, fine – does he kill anyone else? Maybe they felt it was simply not worth exploring.

I don’t know. I didn’t make the film. But what I felt – pretty much the entire way through it – was that it should have been directed by someone else. Someone who understood horror – and Gothic horror. Someone who may have adapted a legendary story himself prior to now. Someone who has ties to Johnny Depp – imagine that, Johnny Depp as Dorian Gray (he would have to be alot younger … but imagine it…). Or can at least find actors of the same calibre. Step up to the table … Tim Burton.


  1. Agree, a pretty awful film and complete waste of a great story. Colin Firth was suitably gruff but Ben Bland failed to convince as someone actually firstly enjoying this hedonism and then turn apart by it. He just smiled creepily then furrowed his brow creepily. Ben Chaplin and Rebecca Hall were both completely wasted, with the former could have explored the homosexual tension in greater depth and with the latter it's not entirely clear why she digs him so. Oh that's right, he really, really good looking. And a dick.

    Barely a couple of memorable moments, the mother-daughter scene and Colin Firth's beard. Drab.

    Nonetheless it was totally worth it to see Kim Newman.

  2. I think the problem was that you didn't believe he was torn apart by his hedonism. So where was the conflict? Man abuses his 'power' … and then dies. Not exactly an arc to a story now is it? Yeah, I never mentioned Ben Chaplin and the homosexuality aspect … and probably should have. But then again, the trailer mentioned none of it also: Youth and 'looks'. Colin Firth's beard was good … have you seen him in the trailer for 'showing-at-london-film-festival' film A Single Man. Now that looks a good movie.

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