Cast & Crew
Chronicle of the harrowing period of Oscar Wilde's life when he was brought to trial and found guilty on charges of sodomy and how he had to come to terms with his wife and children.
A. J. Brown
Albert R. Broccoli
The Trials of Oscar Wilde
The film focuses on the three court cases that would prove the undoing of famed writer Oscar Wilde. Wilde was already both an acclaimed writer and a celebrity when he met Oxford student Lord Alfred Douglas in 1891. Their friendship soon turned into infatuation on both sides, which increasingly angered Douglas's father, the Marquess of Queensberry. Although biographical evidence suggests that it was Douglas who introduced Wilde to London's gay demi-monde, particularly working class male prostitutes, the Marquess blamed Wilde for corrupting his son. After other attempts to publicly shame Wilde, the Marquess left an insulting message at Wilde's club. With Douglas's encouragement, Wilde sued for libel. He dropped the case, when the Marquess's private detectives uncovered evidence of Wilde's sexual relations with male prostitutes, but the Crown then took up the case, charging Wilde with sodomy and gross indecency. Wilde's first trial ended with a hung jury, but the crown pursued a second trial, which resulted in a conviction and a sentence of two years at hard labor.
With laws against homosexual behavior in most countries and bans on the depiction of homosexuality on stage in London and New York City, it was a risky proposition to attempt to dramatize Wilde's life. Nonetheless, two brothers, Leslie Stokes and Sewell Stokes, set out to do that with their 1936 play Oscar Wilde. The play could not be presented publicly in London, but had a brief, poorly received run at a private theatre. Then actor Robert Morley decided to take the play to Broadway, where its subtle approach to Wilde's sexuality and his bravura performance made it a huge hit. But Wilde's story was still impossible to film. Both the British Board of Film Classification and the U.S.'s Production Code Administration strictly forbade any depictions of homosexuality on screen.
That was the atmosphere when two different film companies set out to film Wilde's story in 1959. Vantage Films set out to adapt the Stokes's play with Morley in the lead, at about the same time as Warwick Film Productions set out to make their own adaptation, based heavily on Montgomery Hyde's Famous Trials: Oscar Wilde. There was some precedent for both companies taking on the censors, at least in England, where the Wolfenden Report in 1957 had recommended decriminalizing homosexuality. Although legislative reform in that area would not start until 1967, the report and the fact that two companies were making pictures about Wilde prompted the British Board of Film Censors to alter its restrictions and agree to the public exhibition of both films.
There was still a good deal of risk involved in making both films. The Trials of Oscar Wilde's producers, Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli, could not find external funding, so they financed the film themselves. They may also have hedged their bets in the casting. The first actor approached to play Wilde was John Gielgud, who had directed acclaimed production of two of Wilde's plays, Lady Windermere's Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest. That would have been a very risky choice, as Gielgud had been arrested for soliciting gay sex in a public washroom in 1953, a scandal only alleviated by his immense popularity as an actor. When he turned the role down, however, his only argument was that he looked nothing like Wilde. They next went to Peter Finch, an Australian actor whose career had started to take off with his casting as an iconoclastic doctor in The Nun's Story (1959). Finch, who had a wife and a child at the time and was known for having a passionate affair with Vivien Leigh, was indisputably heterosexual. Moreover, director Ken Hughes thought his casting might ease some of the film's censorship problems, although his comments aren't exactly the most gay-positive statement for a man directing a film about one of the LGBTQ world's most iconic heroes: "What I felt about Finch was that he would level out any suggestion of the camp faggot because he was basically heterosexual." (Ken Hughes, quoted in John Stokes, Oscar Wilde: Myths, Miracles and Imitations). Nonetheless, Finch turned in a subtle performance demonstrating a keen knack for delivering epigrams and bon mots.
Of course, Hughes's screenplay was hardly a gay rights statement. In an attempt to get past the censors, the focus was placed pretty squarely on Wilde's relationship with his wife (Yvonne Mitchell) and his closest friend, the actress Ada Leverson (Maxine Audley). His relationship with Douglas and the working class men with whom he spent time was treated as a fascination with youth. And Douglas (John Fraser) was depicted as a spoiled brat whose petulance was the greatest source of Wilde's problems, the kind of evil homosexual character who would be increasingly represented on screen after the Production Code was amended in 1961.
During production, the other chief concern was competition from Oscar Wilde (1960), which was filming less than 20 miles away at the same time. As a result, Allen and Broccoli pushed the production team to complete their film first. There were four editing rooms set up to piece together footage as the film was still shooting. Composer Ron Goodwin even recorded music cues before the scenes were filmed, leaving editor Geoffrey Foot to make everything match up. The production company even attempted to prevent the other film's distribution, claiming they had exclusive rights to the trial transcripts reproduced in Hyde's book. The courts decided against Warwick, allowing the other film to open five days before The Trials of Oscar Wilde.
The producers' fears proved true, as the film only received limited distribution in the United Kingdom and the U.S., where it was banned in several localities for years. For some reason, in the U.S. the plural "trials" of the title became the singular "trial." The film also showed in both countries as The Green Carnation and The Man with the Green Carnation, a reference to a boutonniere often considered a sign of homosexuality. In Europe, it was a great success, even winning Best Actor and Best Production Design at the Moscow International Film Festival. Yet, despite its limited release, it won the Golden Globe for Best English-Language Foreign Film and Finch was named Best British Actor by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). Nonetheless, the film's financial failure contributed to the demise of Allen and Broccoli's producing partnership, particularly when Allen rejected Broccoli's proposal that they recoup their losses by filming Ian Fleming's James Bond novels. Broccoli made a fortune producing them, while Allen eventually produced the Matt Helm series starring Dean Martin, a clear imitation of the Bond films.
But despite the film's financial failure, it is fondly remembered in England, and its wider release in later years was met with strong approval. When the Rolling Stones made a promotional film (an early music video) for their song "We Love You" in 1967, it was modeled on The Trials of Oscar Wilde, with Mick Jagger as Wilde, Keith Richards as the Marquess of Queensberry and Marianne Faithful as Lord Alfred Douglas.
Wilde's fortunes have improved as well. Although his plays have remained popular since their premieres, his depictions have become much more sympathetic and gay positive. The BBC television serial Oscar (1985), starring Michael Gambon, was much more forthright about his homosexuality, even suggesting that Douglas was the love of his life. In 1997, Moises Kaufman developed a play based on the trial transcripts and other period documents, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. The off-Broadway hit brought Michael Emerson, who played Wilde, to national attention. The same year, the BBC produced the lavish theatrical feature Wilde, with an all-star cast headed by Stephen Fry, Jude Law, Vanessa Redgrave, Judy Parfitt, Michael Sheen, Tom Wilkinson and Ioan Gruffudd.
Producer: Irving Allen, Albert R. Broccoli, Harold Huth
Director: Ken Hughes
Based on the book Famous Trials: Oscar Wilde by Montgomery Hyde and the play The Stringed Lute by John Furnell
Cinematography: Ted Moore
Score: Ron Goodwin
Cast: Peter Finch (Oscar Wilde), Yvonne Mitchell (Constance Wilde), James Mason (Sir Edward Carson), Nigel Patrick (Sir Edward Clarke), Lionel Jeffries (James Sholto Douglas, Marquess of Queensberry), John Fraser (Lord Alfred Douglas), Maxine Audley (Ada Leverson), James Booth (Alfred Wood), Paul Rogers (Frank Harris), Ian Fleming (Arthur, the Wilde Butler), Laurence Naismith (Prince of Wales)
By Frank Miller
The Trials of Oscar Wilde
Released in United States 1960
Released in USA in 35mm prints.
Super Technirama 70
Released in United States 1960