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It’s the classic Faustian tale of terror: handsome socialite lured by his debauched mentor into wicked hedonism stays eternally young while his portrait ages in the attic instead. Now Oscar Wilde’s only Gothic horror novel, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, has been brought to the screen once again as the more simply titled DORIAN GRAY, coming on DVD and Blu-ray August 24 from NEM (see cover and details here).
DORIAN GRAY as at least the dozenth screen adaptation of Wilde’s book—the most famous to date being the Oscar-winning 1945 version. This big-budget Ealing Studios production toplines PRINCE CASPIAN heartthrob Ben Barnes as the enigmatic Dorian, along with Colin Firth, Ben Chaplin, Rebecca Hall and Rachel Hurd-Wood, the latter from AN AMERICAN HAUNTING and PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER and soon to be seen in SOLOMON KANE.
Giving the 1890 masterpiece a modern edge was newcomer scriptwriter Toby Finlay. “It’s a timeless story with a great deal of contemporary currency regarding the desire to halt the aging process, the pursuit of pleasure and the obsession with celebrity culture,” he tells Fango. “What interested me most was the clash between the decadent Victorian ways of old and the modern Edwardian era just around the corner. Wilde really had written the first draft of AMERICAN PSYCHO! I wanted to tap into those psychosexual aspects, making the mysterious picture not just an object but also something Dorian carries around inside him.”
“The time frames have been exaggerated,” Barnes notes. “My character leaves London for 25 years, but then arrives back literally in the next shot completely unchanged while everyone else around him has aged. It’s then that he meets Emily, the daughter of his mentor Lord Henry Wotton, the one new character addition to our story. But he doesn’t exploit Emily. Despite Henry’s fears, Dorian shows his humanity instead, making it a triangular, stake-raising moral dilemma.”
“The story is just so irresistible, isn’t it?” Firth muses. “I was shocked by how many film and television versions there have been, so people clearly feel compelled to dramatize the issues at its heart. I wanted to be in the movie after reading Toby’s script, because my character, Lord Henry, actually has an arc to play, whereas the book contains no journey or conflict. The ‘sins of the father’ aspect coming home to roost regarding his daughter was something I could sink my teeth into, not just standing around pretty period sets spouting famous Wilde lines.”
DORIAN GRAY director Oliver Parker is no stranger to the Wilde movie universe, having previously helmed two successful adaptations—AN IDEAL HUSBAND and THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (also starring Firth). “That’s one of the reasons I was only down to executive-produce for Ealing Studios at first,” he reveals. “I felt I’d paid my Wilde dues, but then I read Toby’s final screenplay and was knocked out by his accent on the story’s humanity, pathos and subtle chills. The quotable dialogue is just a background to a richly textured nightmare world Toby had visualized. How to make the standard drawing-room stuff frightening, the debauchery shocking and the radical reinterpretation of the picture in the attic as a whole new monster was a terrific challenge”—one no doubt informed by his background with Clive Barker, including small roles in the first two HELLRAISERs and NIGHTBREED. Look for more on DORIAN GRAY in Fango #296, on sale in August.
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