Play of the Month: The Picture of Dorian Gray (1976)

Genres - Drama  |   Run Time - 98 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

This version of the much-filmed Oscar Wilde tale is in many ways the most faithful to Wilde's original story. Screenwriter John Osborne has lifted many of Wilde's characteristic quips and provided some of his own that are near-indistinguishable from the original, giving the film a wryer, more sardonic tone than is found in many other adaptations. This Picture of Dorian Gray also consciously makes overt the homosexual undertones of the story, to mixed effect. The melodramatic aspects of the story are made much stronger, but its value as psychological drama is weakened by this approach. As a made-for-TV effort, it also is consciously more of a filmed drama than a cinematic rethinking of the material; while its brief running time keeps this from becoming too much of a handicap, it does make for a few "clunky" moments. While the direction overall is fine, it lacks the menacing sense of fatality and drive that would make the ending pay off in the appropriate manner. Fortunately, the fine cast makes up for this. Peter Firth is an ideal Dorian, truly angelic of face but bereft of a soul, and he carries the picture with his well-modulated performance. Jeremy Brett, despite an unfortunate hairdo, is sterling as Hallward, especially in the important "confession" scene, and John Gielgud is an inspired Wotan, less a creature of hell than a mortal who embraces amorality with gusto. If less than perfect, this Dorian still has moments that dazzle.