"I am what you made me! I lived the life that you preached... but never dared practice. I am everything, that you were too afraid to be."
Dorian Gray is the third film Oliver Parker has directed based on the work of one of the greatest Irish writers of all time, Oscar Wilde. "The Picture of Dorian Gray" is Wilde's only written novel and perhaps one of his most famous works which was censored at the time due to the source material. It has become a masterpiece for Wilde's sharp critique towards the aestheticism of Victorian society. This double life that Wilde's novel captured perfectly didn't really resonate with me in the film. I found it un-engaging and dull with characters that weren't developed really well. Dorian is completely hedonistic and there was nothing about him that made me believe that the people would be so sympathetic towards him. This double life he lived wasn't explored as well in the movie because everyone saw him as he really was, young and beautiful but completely hedonistic. Lord Henry Wooton's influence on him is the main theme in this film as he is the one that introduces Dorian to this lifestyle which he immediately embraces. Despite its good production, I felt the film wasted its potential and lost its appeal quickly.
The screenplay was loosely adapted by Toby Finlay. The film begins with the arrival of the young Dorian Gray (Ben Barnes) to Victorian London. He has inherited a huge estate from his abusive grandfather. Dorian is a nice and naive young man who is quickly swept away with the charismatic Lord Henry Wooton (Colin Firth). Lord Henry also feels attracted to Dorian and reminds him to take advantage of his beauty and youth because it won't last forever. He introduces Dorian to the several pleasures the city has to offer. Lord Henry is married to Lady Victoria (Emilia Fox), but he isn't faithful to her. Lord Henry's artist friend, Basil (Ben Chaplin) also feels admiration for Dorian who hires him to paint a special portrait of him that will capture his youthfulness and beauty. When Basil finished his painting, everyone is entranced by it and it becomes one of the painter's best work. Dorian adores it so much that he makes a pledge saying that he will give his soul to maintain that youthfulness forever. As he becomes more and more obsessed with the painting he begins living a life of debauchery and hedonism. Nothing affects him, as the painting absorbs all his scars and unveils what his soul truly looks like. Dorian hides the painting and lets everyone see him as this beautiful and youthful young man.
Ben Barnes gives a decent performance but his character did lack more depth. It was very difficult to engage with him as he becomes completely obsessed with maintaining his youthful appearance. I couldn't see that spark that I needed to see from him to believe that all the Victorian society would become so obsessed with him. Colin Firth is a great actor and he played a key role in this film as he is the main influence for Dorian's narcissistic obsession. However I never felt this guy could have such an important influence in Dorian's life, he was lacking that magnetism. The addition of Rebecca Hall's character in the second half of the film didn't help either. I couldn't help but feel this film was missing something and it fails to draw the audience in. Dorian Gray is just too explicit in its portrayal of debauchery and nothing is left for the viewer to imagine.