With the familiar favourite Joanna Lumley, glimpses of the reassuring timbre of Stephen Fry, and a generous serving of a cavalier Alfred Enoch, I had high hopes. Fionn Whitehead with his romantic Austen-esque features was excellently cast as Dorian Gray and played the characteristically unsympathetic role with sensitivity.
The movement towards integrating stage and screen so far has made some hits, though for me this digital adaptation by Henry Filloux–Bennett didn’t sit well. I acknowledge the scope of issues they faced while shooting this in the circumstances, though I did feel force-fed the very reality I was trying to escape from.
Although the lavish casting, confident direction and creative editing had slick production value, I feel the writing needed attention. If, however, the show was self-aware in its decision to portray the communities of both theatre and social media as two-faced and volatile then it succeeded with great aplomb. I would have liked fewer generalised stats taken from an already-existing documentary on social media and its impact on the mental health of its users (The Social Dilemma), but I greatly admired the production’s attempt in including so many different platforms that now make up the intricate web of social interaction online. These footage-formats portrayed the retrospective story of Dorian’s demise while mocumentary-style scenes told of the interviews with the two remaining characters still alive to tell the tale. Dorian’s unfixed sexuality felt refreshingly understated too in this nod to a classic whodunnit.
Oscar Wilde’s novel provided good dialogue for these characters and I mourned this a little as Lady Caroline Narborough, though exquisitely played by Lumley, rolled off yet another proverb. The other female role, Sibyl Vane also lacked body - though Emma McDonald’s rendition sung out among the performances, literally and figuratively. It was a shame she was ‘done dirty’ by a scene where she ‘ruins her career’ by forgetting her line on stage which felt too much like a convenient tool for the plot. Notable performances too came from a charismatic Enoch as Henry Wotton and Russell Tovey who played the infatuated Basil Hallward. Basil in this case acts as the Devil, to whom Dorian sells his soul for ever-lasting youth - in the form of a magic camera filter. The losing of his soul seemed to cast Dorian as an empathy-lacking right-wing conspiracy theorist, which felt heavy-handed. Littered with clichés about theatre, social media and mental health, this left me feeling a little cold. Perhaps that was its intention. Perhaps it bit off more than it could chew.
If this was meant as satire, then I think it missed the mark. The idea of good and evil in the concept of morality from the original story was flattened in this rendition where all the ‘Gray’ areas and subtlety were hard to find.
We all know of Stephen Fry’s love of Wilde’s work, so if he approves of this adaptation, I had better let you decide for yourself whether this adaptation is for you. It’s available to stream online until March 31st.