In 1895, Oscar Wilde sues the Marquis of Queensberry for libel after he accuses the Irish playwright of committing the illegal act of sodomy with his son, Lord Alfred Douglas.
How often are two films on identical subjects released nigh-on simultaneously? But while the pair of 1960 pictures focussing on the trials of Oscar Wilde had much in common, they also made for fascinating comparison.
Filmed in monochrome by Hollywood exile Gregory Ratoff (who was directing what turned out to be his last feature), Oscar Wilde was based on a play by Leslie and Sewell Stokes and boasted a flamboyant display of fey bon mot-ery from Robert Morley. But, while he bore a passable physical resemblance to the Irish wit, Morley couldn't resist a preening look of satisfaction at the deliverance of each quip and it was, therefore, difficult to take seriously either his marriage to Phyllis Calvert or his passion for John Neville's Lord Alfred Douglas. However, such roly-poly assurance made his courtroom humiliation at the hands of Ralph Richardson's sneering Sir Edward Carson all the more affecting. Peter Finch, in Ken Hughes's full-colour Super Technirama 70 widescreen version, on the other hand, looked nothing like Wilde and made no attempt at any kind of impersonation. Inspired by John Furnell's play The Stringed Lute and Montgomery Hyde's eponymous biography, Finch created an urbane, but tormented individual who took the art of comedy as seriously as he took love. Thus, his fixation with John Fraser's carelessly narcissistic Bosie is more palpable, as is his shame at embarrassing his adoring wife, Yvonne Mitchell. But he's always Peter Finch playing a celebrated sophisticate brought low by the vengeance of a boor - always the man with the green carnation, but never Oscar Wilde. He is also upstaged by Lionel Jeffries, whose imperiously unhinged display as the Marquis of Queensberry belies his reputation as a comic character actor in the likes of Two Way Stretch. Ironically, Morely's nemesis was also essayed by a comic stalwart, Edward Chapman, who was Mr Grimsdale to Norman Wisdom's Pitkin. But James Mason failed to match Richardson's sadistic homophobia and the courtroom exchanges are as disappointing as the ones that Ken Hughes would later stage between Alec Guinness and Richard Harris in Cromwell.
Interesting interpretation of the great playwrite's life but really doesn't carry it off.