The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Biopic [feature], Courtroom Drama  |   Release Date - May 1, 1960 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 125 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Craig Butler

A sterling performance from Peter Finch infuses The Trials of Oscar Wilde with a radiant glow, despite some concessions to the mores of the time in which it was filmed that may strike modern viewers as both odd and rather dishonest. In 1960, simply making an English film about Wilde was tempting fate, as any real discussion of his homosexuality and its consequences would have been banned by the national censor. Thus, Trials has to skirt the issue quite a bit, hinting as far as it can and opting for ambiguity when things threaten to get a bit dicey. Today's audiences will find this a bit coy in places, a bit baffling in others, and may feel that the filmmakers are simply trying to whitewash the facts. Certainly, in this treatment, Wilde comes off as a bit more noble and "above it all" than the facts indicate. However, this has the dramatic benefit of making his fall from grace more tragic. It also allows Finch to turn in a performance that captures all of the wit and mischief of Wilde, while at the same time creating a portrait that is more muscular and masculine than that which is usually credited to the man. Finch does a superb job of capturing the many sides of Wilde, and of anchoring the film with his presence and his manner. James Mason, who should be equally good as the lawyer who undoes Wilde, should be Finch's match; yet Mason seems to be operating at less than his full powers, turning in a performance that is good, yet less than it should be. Lionel Jeffries engages in some marvelous scenery chewing, and John Fraser quite looks the part of Lord Alfred Douglas. Ken Hughes' direction is solid, always leading the viewer exactly where he needs to go. The Trials of Oscar Wilde may be a bit dated, but it's still quite powerful -- and Finch is often mesmerizing.