Dorian Gray (2009)
Reviewed on 2013 September 4
This is a version of Dorian Gray that has the hand of Ealing Studios to guide it, Colin Firth to do his thing, and a pretty, pretty actor to play the lead, and it still left me a little cold. I was expecting a masterpiece and I felt like what they delivered was watered down Ken Russell. It starts out with a wonderfully sinister tone and gets sillier as it sleazes along.
Young, naive Dorian (Ben Barnes) returns to his father’s estate to claim his inheritance. Dorian is an innocent, plus he has to come to terms with the fact that dear old dad was an abusive lout. He’s overwhelmed by his past and his new place in society, until he’s taken under the scaly wing of Lord Henry Wotton (Firth). Firth hisses away like a cartoon devil in young Dorian’s ear, nattering on about youth and beauty being the only two currencies in life until the poor sap believes it completely.
That’s just part of the problem. An artist, Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin), is so smitten with the good-looking Dorian that he produces one of his finest works: a huge painting that for the first time shows this innocent young man how handsome he is. By this time Wotton had been working on Dorian’s psyche enough for the painting to push him over to the dark side. He is at the apex of his mortal beauty and is perfectly willing to part with his soul to keep it.
Usually there’s a lot of fanfare for trades such as this. Dorian has no little statue of Bast to hear his wish (a device in the 1945 version), contracts to sign, or anything like that. Here he just gazes wistfully at the picture and murmurs a Victorian version of “Yes! Hit me wit dat!” and then stays annoyingly young while everyone else in his circle rots like bananas. The catch is that the painting ages for him, falling apart a bit more with each sin. Oh, and now he’s a pretty but soulless monster too. Good job!
I think the problem was that the 1945 version, with George Sanders as the serpent Wotton, was more sober and thought-provoking. This version had more stuff in it just for shock value. There’s one funny bit where the women kind of line up for a shot at Dorian, hinting that the bargain turned him into human catnip as well. Colin Firth owned it and Barnes handled the silliness very well, but otherwise, stick with the original.
Two chocolate morsels.