- To the End of the World: Travels with Oscar Wilde, by Rupert Everett. Little Brown. $34.99.
Rupert Everett's To the End of the World could be called a walk on the Wilde side. In his third memoir, Everett recounts, with much dark humour, his 12-year engagement with Oscar Wilde, "the patron saint of anyone who ever made a mess of their life", seen through the traumatic making of his film, The Happy Prince (2018).
Everett writes, "I decided to write, direct, star in and produce a film. I would be Oscar Wilde in exile. A gigantic leading role, pages of flighty dialogue, a Visconti-meets-CCTV aesthetic, all those friends and relations from a 30-year career press-ganged into supporting roles, the dream seemed as clear as yesterday". But, "the dream soon turned into a nightmare. This is the story of that bad trip".
Wilde, after serving two years in jail for gross indecency with his lover, Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, sailed for France in 1897 and died in 1900. Everett reflects, "Wilde being exiled to Paris as a vagabond has always been a subject I'd loved. And he's like a Christ figure, an early martyr, on the road to gay liberation".
Everett had played Oscar Wilde in David Hare's play The Judas Kiss, wearing a fat suit, "replete with baboon moobs, a wobbling midriff and a marvellous knee-length arse", which inspired him to seek film backers. The challenge of raising 14 million euros for a European co-production, takes him to some strange German financial backers.
Initially, things go well. Everett writes, "Lights. Camera. Action. We'll be shooting half the film in Germany and the rest in Italy, Belgium and France. First stop Franconia, a province of Bavaria. This is where our Royal Family flapped in from, so a lot of people look like Prince William."
The film crew arrive in the village of Thurnau. "Strange things begin to happen . . . Six Roman seamstresses magically appear and sit at sewing machines making costumes all day long. They cook pasta on spirit burners for lunch. We ask the village mayor to turn off the church bells that clang every quarter of an hour. Bemused smile. The bells have rung consistently since 1640. But he stops them. This is enormously empowering and I feel like Elizabeth Taylor."
Everett at one point thinks the Germans are asking him to film in north-western Australia, only to learn that he has misheard Nordrhein-Westfalen. Depression worsens when the script editor, whom Everett labels Dr Goebbels, suggests Everett drop Bosie altogether from the film: "Ah sink zis Bosie ees nat so essential, ya? . . . zis zeen hitting cutting-womb floor".
It's no wonder that Everett occasionally resorts to drink and drugs. His star cast, which includes Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson and Colin Firth, who arrives stating, "I wouldn't miss this train crash for anything", have to put up with Everett's financial and directorial angst. Firth is labelled a saint after foregoing his fee to help the film's budget.
But Everett bounces back, and within the settings of Paris, Venice and Naples, provides numerous sharply observed character vignettes and social observations. Everett, who travelled to Venice under the nom de plume Kieran O'Knightley, recalls St Mark's Square on January 5,"as a vast drained swimming pool in need of a good scrub. Empty gondolas bob about on the canals like rows of open coffins."
Like Everett's other two memoirs, To The End Of The World is revealing about the nature of stardom. He writes, "becoming a star is an addiction and a mirage, a pretty picture at first, but quickly strained by the thick hairspray of power and paranoia that slowly dulls our features".
With the release of the film in 2018, which generally gets good reviews, he can only watch on at the Oscars, but takes solace from its ecstatic reception at a gay and lesbian festival in St Petersburg, where the audience has "taken a risk just by showing up". Now, he feels, "the whole thing begins to make sense. THIS is the prize."
Like Everett's other two memoirs, To The End Of The World is revealing about the nature of stardom.
His mood swings continue, reflecting "the struggle was as important as the doing . . .it's been an eye-opening experience. I have much more capacity than I thought. I think I limited myself . . . I painted Oscar Wilde as I felt him to be. I adore the film, warts and all, and some strange weight has lifted from my shoulders".
But then, at the end of the book, living in rural Wiltshire with his elderly Brexit-supporting, Trump- admiring mother, where he is "not the only the only gay in the village", but the only Remainer, he writes, "never has the future seemed so uncertain . . . we throw the dice for immortality in this crapshoot and are quickly forgotten, even the most illustrious of us. But this film will remain."