Dorian Gray [Blu-ray] (2009)

Actors: Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Rebecca Hall, John Hollingworth, Caroline Goodall
Director: Oliver Parker
Writers: Oscar Wilde, Toby Finlay
Producers: Alexandra Ferguson, Barnaby Thompson, Charles Miller Smith, James Hollond, James Spring
Format: AC-3, Color, DTS Surround Sound, Widescreen
Language: English
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: National Entertainment Media
DVD Release Date: August 24, 2010
Run Time: 112 minutes


One rarely thinks of Oscar Wilde as a horror writer, and yet at its heart, The Picture of Dorian Gray is exactly that. It details the life of a monster created by a Faustian bargain, temporarily spared the cost of his evil while destroying everything and everyone around him. The fears it embodies prove profoundly personal as well: Wilde was arguably the most famous hedonist in history and the destruction of his titular character often reads as a cautionary tale to himself.

It seems strange, then, that this most recent adaptation of the story would be the first to fully embrace its scarier side. Director Oliver Parker takes a few liberties, but backed by a stalwart cast and a vivid sense of atmosphere, he captures Wilde’s prose with exquisite grace. Ben Barnes brings the perfect combination of innocence and cruelty to Gray, a beautiful, naïve young man who agrees to have his portrait painted by noted artist Basil Halward (Ben Chaplin). The results are so perfect that they truly capture the soul of the subject, creating a strange bond between painting and painted that transforms into an infernal secret.

Dorian soon falls under the wing of Henry Wotten (Colin Firth), a self-indulgent bon vivant who feels that sensual experience of any sort is a worthy end unto itself. The young protégé quickly surpasses his teacher in monstrous appetites - sexual, gastronomical and otherwise -and yet his features remain untouched by any scar or blemish. It’s the portrait which ages, revealing every inch of ravaged, destroyed flesh for the world to see. Dorian responds by hiding it in his attic under lock and key, never looking at it save in a few hateful moments of self-loathing. Meanwhile, he continues his Bacchanalian assault on Victorian society, claiming lives directly and indirectly in his relentless pursuit of new pleasures.

Anyone who’s read the novel knows how it ends, and Parker doesn’t deviate from the core of it. The wrinkles he adds accentuate the tale rather than detract from it: signs of a filmmaking crew who understand and respect their source. Dorian eventually departs for foreign shores, leading to a jump in time between the late 19th century and the early 20th. In the meantime, Henry has a daughter (Rebecca Hall), who teaches him that some things are more important than self-indulgence. When Dorian returns - still looking fresh as a daisy - he sets his sights on the girl, fostering a conflict between him and his former mentor.

Parker embellishes that with further twists, from a deflowered debutante emerging years after the fact to a loyal manservant unjustly repaid for his duties. In each case, they contain seeds from the original book, flowering her into different forms but staying true thanks to the director’s keen insight.

The horror elements remain classically Gothic. The portrait itself takes on overtly menacing tones, dripping maggots and uttering half-heard growls which haunt its owner no matter how far he flees. The stairway to the attic adopts the aspects of a haunted memory, lingering in the rear of Parker’s shots, but never quite forgotten. Dorian’s more ghoulish activities arise more from suggestion than overt declaration, though the film features copious nudity and at least one body hacked to pieces. The set design alternates between Victorian refinement and Sweeney Todd rot, as fingers of corruption reach through England’s upper crust to reveal a vile and cancerous universe beneath.

Aided by the performances, it becomes a fascinatingly creepy affair, as we witness the destruction of Dorian’s soul reflected in every corner of the screen. Outright shocks are limited, but the haunting imagery lingers in the fundaments of the brain, While Wilde’s signature wit is in great attendance, it’s less playful than cutting: slicing whatever it touches to ribbons. That enables the film to take a proud place alongside the 1945 version as a definitive adaptation, and hopefully introduce some new readers to Wilde’s extraordinary book. Dorian Gray does its creators proud, while reminding us that the hidden monstrosities of Romantic horror still have the power to enthral.

THE DISC: The Blu-Ray is fairly unremarkable, with just the film itself and a few handfuls of extras accompanying it. The visual transfer is solid and the director provides an interesting commentary, but the disc is far more functional than comprehensive.

WORTH IT? Viewers who aren’t fans of the Wilde book may want to opt for a rental rather than a purchase, but the film makes an excellent buy for anyone interested in an older school of horror.

RECOMMENDATION: As an introduction to the novel, or just as an evening’s unsettling entertainment, Dorian Gray hits all the right notes.

- Rob Vaux



blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest Headlines

Most Popular

Copyright © 1997-forward James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page (unless where indicated otherwise).