The Picture of Dorian Gray has been since its publication in 1890 a popular, albeit controversial, subject, and its cultural influence long-lasting, certainly more than other books of the same kind, including the French
À Rebours by Joris-Karl Huysmans that somehow inspired it -the very book that “poisoned Dorian Gray” in the novel, as declared by Wilde during his trial. (Incidentally, À Rebours is an amazing book, and if you’ve liked The Picture of Dorian Gray you *have* to read it – with the caveat that content and tone are more decadent and tragic that the English novel).
Probably the scandal that has accompanied The Picture of Dorian Gray since its onset has also assured its celebrity, and the story of a young man that sells his soul in exchange for having his picture, rather than he, to bear the scars of age and vices, is alluring and at the same time creepy.
Dorian Gray (2009) is just one of the movies on the subject – I remember at least The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) by MGM with George Sanders and one from the 1970s with Helmut Berger. However, this lastest version is – to me – rather enticing, and not just for Colin Firth playing a credible Sir Henry Wotton, the black soul of Dorian. I have also liked the gothic overtones and a great photography, together with some innovations in the plot toward the end, which, while making the movie not an accurate version of Wilde’s novel, are nonetheless plausible and have the advantages of showing in greater clarity something only hinted in the book – such as Henry’s true personality and feelings.
Not all reviews have been positive. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 43% of rating, with this synthetic statement: “Despite a lavish and polished production, Dorian Gray is tame and uninspired with a lifeless performance by Ben Barnes in the title role.”
The Guardian has been ways more generous: “The posters make it look like a Twilight knockoff, but Oliver Parker’s brash version of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is rather different. […] Wilde’s romance is caricatured, certainly, but the whole thing is socked over with gusto. Toby Finlay’s adapted screenplay has some clever new plot inventions and there’s a great turn from Colin Firth as the debauched aesthete Lord Henry Wotton. Ben Barnes plays the beautiful youth Dorian Gray, who makes a sensational entry into fashionable society when artist Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin) paints his picture and Dorian falls under the silver-tongued spell of Wotton. […]
Dorian conceives a crazy jealousy of this picture that will remain forever youthful while he grows old. Instantly, an unseen devil impresses upon Gray a bargain: the pictured image will decay while Dorian retains his epicene beauty. Parker has made a name for himself with Wilde adaptations. This is the least respectful and the most fun.” Read the full review here, and watch the movie: it’s right now available on Netflix.
Incidentally: yet one more version – the one commonly known was revised by the author himself after it was condemned by the British press over 130 years ago as “vulgar”, “unclean”, “poisonous” and “discreditable” – the original, uncensored one of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray novel has been published in 2011 by Harward University Press. Useless to say, I’m reading it now.