Dorian Gray (2009)


Director: Oliver Parker



Producer: Barnaby Thompson. Writer: Toby Finlay. Camera: Roger Pratt. Music: Charlie Mole. Sets: John Beard.

Colin Firth, Ben Barnes, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Rebecca Hall, Emilia Fox, Ben Chaplin, Fiona Shaw, Caroline Goodall, Maryam D’abo, Douglas Henshall, Jo Woodcock.


Young and impressionable heir Dorian Gray (Barnes) returns to London and the large, mouldering house and fortune he has inherited. Instantly befriended by the older, decadent and wicked Lord Henry Wootton (Firth) and his artist friend Basil Hallward (Chaplin), he is soon plunged into a world of heavy drinking, opium taking, casual sex and late-night orgies.   Dorian makes an accidental Faustian pact to never grow old whilst always indulging in life’s pleasures, a deal captured in Hallward’s painting of him. But as Dorian enjoys the hedonistic pleasures of London and remains fresh faced and handsome, the image of him in the portrait slowly begins to age and decay, reflecting the moral rot of his character.


Playwright Oscar Wilde’s only novel, a classic of Victorian Gothic horror, has been filmed and staged many times over, even being made into a ballet. Here it is dusted off again and, despite the bustles, bodices and bowler hats on display, this time it is aimed squarely at a 21st century, hardcore clubbing audience in their twenties.

The film is now shorn of Wilde’s full title The Picture of Dorian Gray, presumably to focus attention even more tightly on the narcissistic main character. It also spotlights the awkwardness of playing him for the chosen actor.

Dorian Gray is a difficult role to fulfil. Described throughout Wilde’s book as having heart-stopping beauty, he is also a ruthlessly cruel, self-obsessed aesthete with irresistible charisma. The problem for most dramatists adapting the novel is that Dorian always ends up looking lovely whilst everyone else does the wit and schmoozing. Narnia’s Barnes gets the dubious honour of portraing the titular cad and promptly plays Dorian with all the conviction of a blindfolded catwalk model on roller-skates; unbalanced, directionless.

Predictably then it’s left to those in the other roles to bolster the film. Firth plays Lord Wooton with lip-smacking wit and frivolity. He had been the darling of British drawing room theatre and film long before he won his Oscar for The King’s Speech, playing heroic if slightly bland Englishmen of upstanding virtue (his little sister from TV’s Pride and Prejudice, Fox, even plays his wife here). It is a complete guilty pleasure to see him exercising his villainous muscles for once and helping to bring the script’s cutting witticisms to life.

Writer Finlay has scribbled a gamier, more licentious version of the book to keep it relevant to modern eyes, with a heavy emphasis on class A substances, binge drinking and hetero and homo-sex (the latter never being more than a subtle whisper in Wilde’s writing, for obvious reasons) but he still manages, as movie mogul Sam Goldwyn once cleverly put it, to “bring it bang up to date with some snappy 19th Century dialogue”. There is a musty, old fashioned feel to the drama despite the moral anachronisms.

Parker, a bit of a Wilde cinema expert after writing and directing acclaimed star-heavy versions of The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband, is here reduced to the director’s chair only and it’s interesting to ponder how much swifter and smarter this fluffy piece might have been if he’d had more singular control. But what we are left with is a pretty, funny and engaging ornament that manages to cast a certain spell, rather like the lead character.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

Image Harry Potter Deathly Hallows Part 1

Director: David Yates



Producer: David Barron, David Heyman, J.K. Rowling. Writer: Steve Kloves. Camera: Eduardo Serra. Music: Alexandre Desplat. Sets: Stuart Craig.

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham-Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Helen McRory, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, David Thewlis, John Hurt, Imelda Staunton


Young wizard Harry Potter (Radcliffe) is now a young man and almost graduated from Hogwarts Academy. Along with his friends Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) he has to race against time to destroy a set of evil pendants and uncovers the most powerful objects in his magical world: the Deathly Hallows.


The seventh of eight films based on author (now co-producer) Rowling’s seven novels about boy wizard Potter (the final book is being split into two movies for ease of adaptation…and to earn a few extra pennies for Warner Brothers before the series takes its curtain call, no doubt) shows a clear progression in terms of stylistic technique and maturity of handling what is essentially ‘young’ subject matter in the best film of the series so far.

It’s certainly a welcome trotter for Potter outside the now redundant confines of Hogwarts, a whimsical school whose cute fixtures and fittings (the animated pictures, endless moving staircases, creepy corridors and ghosts flying around) had long since outstayed their welcome.

We move almost immediately into high gear with some strong scenes of violence for a 12(a) rated movie, opening with a teacher being tortured in graphic fashion (something we return to later on). But this is a pretty grimly plotted outing altogether, death seeps not only into the title but also into every frame (the palate used by the cinematographer is unremittingly grey, drained of colour), even our heroic trio look consumptive.

Perhaps illness also explains their incessantly dull, wooden acting (particularly Watson), but this is a fault inherent in the entire series. It must have been daunting for three actors new to motion pictures to be surrounded by the cream of British Equity slumming it/queening it/lording it over them in often pointless and disposable character roles (Shaw, Griffiths, Walters – you’ve been spotted). 

There are, however, performances to savour and they are always the baddies – Staunton isquiet megalomania behind twin-set and pearls and Bonham-Carter sexily sociopathic.

This film suffers from maladies that have also afflicted the other films – there are far too many characters milling around for a sound-bite and far too many new people introduced into this heady mix. There is too much ‘business’ in the writing leaving the narrative jagged (we hurry along from one scene to another and are then jolted into sedantry description) and cluttered. Kloves really needed a red pencil and blue scissors to hack a few situations out completely, particularly as some scenes are superfluous.

One thing Kloves does get spot on, is the humour. The film is frequently very funny and his cast jump at the chance to raise a few laughs, none more so than when, after his friends have cloned themselves as Harry to confuse his enemies, they re-group but wearing each other’s clothes and Harry ends up wearing a bra.

One moment to note, in fact to savour as it is probably one of the most dazzling images captured in modern film – Hermione tells a story about death and three Princes and her narration is accompanied by a beautifully animated story that recalls the Shadow Plays of yore. An incredible moment that knocks the noisy whizz-bang of the other special effects into a cocked hat.