British actor Rupert Everett says he believes that more than 100 years after his death, Oscar Wilde is today a "Christ figure" for the gay community worldwide.
Talking to The Hollywood Reporter about his directorial debut, the $13 million biopic The Happy Prince, Everett says he hopes to premiere it later this year, possibly at the Venice Film Festival. He said the film, a co-production involving BBC Films, Lionsgate and backing from Eurimages, the Bavarian Film Fund and Belgium's Wallonia fund, as well as private equity, is "about Oscar Wilde in exile in France and Italy, a kind of 19th century road movie, his journey from prison to the grave."
Everett plays Wilde, who was sentenced to two years' hard labor after being convicted of indecency with a group of young men at an infamous London trial of 1895. After being released from prison, Wilde left for self-imposed exile in Europe.
There have been other recent films about Wilde, says Everett, but none that deal with what became of the writer, essayist and playwright famous for his The Importance of Being Earnest. "Wilde is a kind of Christ figure in a way for every LGBT person now on their journey," Everett tells The Hollywood Reporter. "That journey started with Wilde. Homosexuality did not really exist as a debated notion until the Oscar Wilde scandal and with Oscar's death in 1900 - at the very beginning of the new century, all of the 20th century debates were launched: modernism, feminism, communism."
Speaking during last week's Sofia Film Festival, where Hugh Hudson's feature Finding Altamira was screening, in which Everett plays a village priest who tries to suppress the discovery of prehistoric cave paintings, he said: "Oscar is right in there, since his death began the gay debate."
Happy Prince is, Everett says, a very personal film: "As a gay person, it is a terribly important story to me personally because Oscar really was crucified by the society that had at first adored him - he is a kind of patron saint to me. I'd love to communicate that notion to everyone."
The movie - which stars a host of A-listed British and European talent, many of them personal friends of Everett's, including Colin Firth, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson, Tom Wilkinson, Beatrice Dalle and Anna Chancellor - is "a very European film," says Everett. that uses three languages: English, French and Italian.
Shot last year on location in Germany, Italy, Belgium and France, Happy Prince was written, directed and produced by Everett. Co-producers are BBC Films, Sebastian Delloye of Belgium's Entre Chien et Loup and Joerg Schulze and Philipp Kreutzer of Germany's Maze Films.
Currently in postproduction, the film will be ready in early summer, says Everett, adding wistfully: "It was my dream to be ready for Cannes; I would love the film to go to Venice or somewhere like that."