Tonight I tried to watch Dorian Gray 2009. I got only 30 minutes in before simply given up and turning my whole TV off. If only the comment on my status from a trusted literature and writing friend had reached me before I started. She simply said “No, don’t do it.” I’ve very little to say about the film and I know that I cannot give it a fair review as I didn’t even watch half of it, so this is just a couple of points from what I did see.
While Ben Barnes is a wonderful actor, he is not Dorian Gray. Wilde describes Dorian as being blue eyed with golden. He talks about him looking niave and innocent. Ben Barnes does not have that look at all. Not only is he dark haired, but the darkness of his eyes loses all attempts at looking niave and innocent. Why it is necessary to keep Dorian’s appearance is for a whole other post though.
Colin Firth certainly wouldn’t have been my first choice for Lord Henry, but it’s not a bad choice. If anything I would say in the small bit I watched, Harry’s character was probably the only part that was worth mentioning. He was pretty much the same as the book, impatient, cynical, sexist, rude, immoral.
The film moved too fast for me to be comfortable with it and there was not enough time for character development. Before we really have any idea of who Dorian or Basil or Henry are, Henry is getting Dorian high so that he will go shag a woman. There is no introduction to Basil as an artist, just him painting and telling Henry that he “already said” he could stay if he was quiet. Without a knowledge of the book I feel this movie is dark and difficult to comprehend. With a knowledge of the book, I feel this movie tried too hard to focus on the darkness that takes over Dorian, rather than the characters which is what the book is about at it’s heart.
One of the most important points early on in the story is Dorian making the swap with the painting of himself regarding his soul. In the book Dorian makes an innocent comment about how he wishes he could remain young and have the picture age, a comment that Basil and Henry barely notice. In the movie it’s a serious conversation wherein Henry talks about witchcraft and said that Dorian wouldn’t really do it, and Dorian says yes. For me that makes too big a deal out of the swap, in the book it’s a minor point which you later discover to be a major one. The movie so far has so sense of suspense.
Also, I have no doubt that Dorian was sexually promiscuous during the novel, once he was sure he wasn’t aging and went through that time of not caring what he did or how he came across. However, I do not believe he spelt with Sybil Vane before her suicide. I’m somewhat annoyed at the movie for putting that in, I feel like they put it there simply because they wanted to make their film edgy.
All in all I can guarantee I am never going to watch this film all the way through. I was uncomfortable with it not so much as an very bad adaptation of a book I adore (I’ve got to the end of them before, see Divergent and Wuthering Heights 2011) but rather because of the content of the movie. Looking at it from the perspective as someone who knows the book or someone who doesn’t, I don’t think I could ever enjoy this film.