Dorian Gray (2009)

Dorian Gray (2009)

Whilst remaining a classic piece of literature, it remains surprising that Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray has relatively few modern cinematic adaptations.

The story tells of Dorian Gray (Ben Barnes), a naïve man who arrives in Victorian London to inherit his grandfather's estate. Tutored by the charismatic Lord Henry Wotton, he finds himself drawn into the self-indulgent social circles of aristocrats. Spurred on by his own vanity, Gray commissions a painting of himself to which he commits his soul, causing the painting to suffer the effects of Gray's increasingly hedonistic lifestyle while the man himself remains youthful.

Setting fantasies during the Victorian period is popular in part because a lot of the source material is contemporary, spurred on by the mass of scientific advancements and the feeling of stepping into the unknown felt during the 19th Century. Similarly, the modern fantasies are punctuated by modern unknowns, especially interplanetary travel and space.

However, because the Victorian era is no longer contemporary, adaptations have to play into the century-old stereotypes in order to feel like they belong. So, as Dorian Gray opens with a steam train pulling into London surrounded by Underground roundels and pickpockets, the scene is well and truly set.

But there is too much of a good thing. The following carriage ride through the murky streets with pop-up townhouses begins to feel forced and fake; perhaps this is an artistic decision with an intentional nod towards the character, but it also breaks the illusion of Victorian London and returns you to the film set.

The dizzying speed between camera shots is both unnatural and unsettling, but ultimately as distracting as a child on a sugar high, never allowing the film to find a rhythm. And the odd choice to include a mystery mid-film scene at the start gives a feeling that the film is over midway through.

Really it's a shame, because the second half of the film is a vast improvement. The true extent of Gray's lack of aging is something that the director Oliver Parker should have milked more rather than getting caught up in hammering home Gray's hedonism is a series of unnecessary sex scenes.

Sadly there aren't any other modern cinematic adaptations of Dorian Gray so this is still the go-to to get a quick taste of Oscar Wilde's influential book. So perhaps you should see it, even if you don't enjoy it.

2 stars