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The Picture of Dorian Gray

 

Among more than 30 film adaptions of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, a 1945 release (not rated, 110 minutes) starring Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray is generally acclaimed as the best. It got four Oscar nominations. Different viewers will have different opinions.

Just indulge the fantasy element: a painted portrait ages grotesquely while its subject, Dorian Gray, lives an unimaginably dissolute life and never looks older than a handsome 20 year old. Gray’s impulse to sell his soul for eternal youth was an offer The Evil One couldn’t refuse.

The 1945 black and white version superficially treats Gray’s moral struggles and capitulation which are so vividly probed in the book. A young Angela Lansbury was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her rather placid role as Sybil Vane, Gray’s first victim. The actors talk too fast.

I like the 1973 version (rated TV-14, 111 minutes) starring Shane Briant as Dorian. The pace is natural, the cinematography is well staged in color, and the script obviously reflects the often meditative tone of the novel. Briant is a credible Dorian. The women in this production are rather conventionally feminine and they tend to be a part of the scenery.

A 1976 version produced as the BBC Play of the Month (in The Oscar Wilde Collection/British Broadcasting Corporation, not rated, 98 minutes) is a theatrical departure from Wilde’s penetrating exploration of Dorian’s corruption and anguish. Peter Firth superficially plays Dorian, and the production minimizes the horror of the painted portrait. Sir John Gielgud and Jeremy Brett offer their marvelous acting talents to redeem this version.

A 2009 film titled Dorian Gray (rated R, 112 minutes, Ben Barnes as Dorian) gets this classic story mostly wrong. This is a Hollywood-ized version, with too much action, too much graphic sexuality, and too much violence. Wilde’s philosophical ruminations on good and evil get lost. Colin Firth as Dorian’s amoral mentor, Lord Henry Wotton, is a quite believably demonic tempter and a cad.

 

Stream The Picture of Dorian Gray (1973 version starring Shane Briant) through Hoopla

Watch The Picture of Dorian Gray (2009 version starring Colin Firth) through Kanopy

Download the audiobook of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde through Hoopla

Download the ebook of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde through Hoopla

Request a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde through Minuteman

 

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