Monday, October 10, 2011

"Dorian Gray" (2009)

"Dorian Gray", DVD cover
Let's start with a confession - I watched this movie because of Ben Barnes. 

While I certainly don't regard him irresistibly handsome (this seems to be the way in which he is typically described), there is something about him I really like. On top of that, when you watch him in interviews, he comes across as an intelligent young man (probably a bit too intelligent for a good-looking actor), down to earth, slightly shy but still with a charming sense of humor. He looks like one of those people, whom you would like to befriend and always see happy and successful in whatever they do.

Having read some contradictory reviews about "Dorian Gray",  I felt the need to watch it and make my own opinion. I'm not a fan of neither British costume dramas, nor horror movies, but somehow couldn't believe that Ben Barns was as terrible as Dorian, as some critics wrote.

And the truth is that he is not
. What is more, I think that he is as good as one could possibly be in a fast-forward movie, shot in a way more suitable for a music video. You don't normally create full-rounded characters in a video clip, don't you?
The scriptwriter and director didn't even regard it important enough to establish Dorian as the charismatic character, who everybody find irresistible. Instead, Ben Barnes is simply left to be handsome - and yes, he is, but his type of facial and bodily structure is not the classical example of male beauty; it appeals to some, but not to all. Another appalling fact is that what is supposed to be Dorian's real love takes place in about 15 minutes screen time - including the girl's suicide and her brother's attempted revenge.

Many scenes are just not properly built up. For example, the movie shows Dorian kissing Basil, the artist who painted the picture, and initiating a homoerotic sexual act (a scene that doesn't exist in the book) in what could be interpreted as an attempt to distract the painter from wanting to have the portrait for an upcoming exhibition. However, although Basil's love to Dorian is obvious in Oscar Wilde's book, there are relatively little and not strong enough references about it in the movie before the scene in question.

These are just a few examples of what can make an actor partly look ridiculous on screen - although nothing could be more ridiculous than a moaning and groaning like a zombie picture...

I could imagine what attracted Ben Barnes to the role though. The film at least tries to show Dorian as a real person, who falls victim to Lord Henry's poisonous world view but then realizes that something is wrong. For example, Dorian is shocked and remorseful when he hears about Sybile's death (the woman he first wanted to marry but than dumped after a night out in a brothel with Lord Henry). However, the scene is spoiled by the fact that just a short exchange with Lord Henry is enough to calm  Dorian down and make him behave as if nothing had happened. And yes, the picture is groaning from the attic, as if to show that it is the only reason for Dorian's hardheartedness.

Another major difference from the book is that by the end Dorian understands the meaningless of his way of living, regrets his actions and sincerely wants to change - another thing that an actor like Ben Barnes might have found interesting. But again, like everything else, this line is also shown in fast motion and refuses to build up to Dorian's own decision to destroy the picture. Instead, the script invents a story in which Lord Henry does it for him in a bid to save his daughter (who doesn't exist in the book), because she is in love with Dorian.

To sum up, most of the actors give their best within the frame of a well-intended but ultimately weak script and bold, beautiful video-clip style of cinematography. The movie looks good but tells very little about its characters.

  • Ben Barnes as Dorian Gray
  • Colin Firth as Lord Henry
  • Ben Chaplin as Basil
  • Rachel Hurd-Wood as Sybil
  • Rebecca Hall as Emily (Lord Henry's daughter)
Director: Oliver Parker
Screenplay: Toby Finlay


  1. I like Ben Barnes and Ben as Dorian!

  2. So do I! Can't wait to see him in more movies:-)