Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Fry’

The Happy Prince ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 16th June, 2018

The Happy Prince 1In Richard Ellmann’s magisterial biography of Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright’s final couple of years — in other words, the period between his release from prison and his death in the Hotel d’Alsace in Paris — gets somewhat short shrift, partly because Ellmann himself was a dying man as he struggled to complete his book. I have long maintained that that means that Wilde’s exile is nearly always portrayed as pure tragedy, whereas in fact any close reading of his voluminous letters from 1897 to 1900 makes clear he enjoyed many good times and sexual encounters in France and Italy, free of the moral strictures of perfidious Albion (less so in Switzerland, where he thought the people looked like turnips). Indeed, as his devoted friend and first homosexual lover, Robbie Ross, recalled soon after Oscar’s death, apart from a few barren periods when his monthly allowance ran out, he was able to have champagne every day. I was delighted that in Rupert Everett’s films, The Happy Prince, which is now on release in London, the champagne does indeed flow. As do the willing youths of Naples and the Paris boulevards, including the delightful young soldier Maurice Gilbert, who was passed around among members of what would in the 1930s would wittily be dubbed The Homintern of well-connected queer gentlemen.

The Happy Prince 2But Rupert Everett (who wrote, directed and partly produced The Happy Prince, as well as playing the lead role) focuses particularly on the tragic triangle of Oscar’s main loves: his wife Constance (by this time handicapped after a fall down stairs in the House Beautiful in Tite Street and doomed to die before her husband), Robbie Ross, and the “golden boy”, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas. Colin Morgan (unrecognisably blond) was an inspired choice to play Bosie, as he radiates exactly the sort of pretty petulance and sporadic vindictiveness that made Bosie mad, bad and dangerous to know — a true scion of the Black Douglases. At times one wants Oscar just to slap him, though one knows that he won’t, besotted as he is, despite everything that has happened. Instead, it is (in this film’s imaginative relating of the story) Robbie — sensitively and beautifully played by Edwin Thomas — who lashes out at Oscar’s graveside. But it is an empty victory, because everyone has in fact lost, in the battle for Oscar’s love and compassion.

The Happy Prince 3Rupert Everett’s own portrayal of Wilde externalises the playwright’s inner torments and bitter regrets, so that his face is often distorted and his visage a ravaged mockery of his own glittering past — a sort of walking Picture of Dorian Gray, brought down from the attic. I am not convinced that Oscar or Reggie Turner (Colin Firth, as one has never seen him) would have been quite so ready with the expletives as they are in the film. But a lot of the scenes are redolent of fin-de-siecle atmosphere and historical fact, though the notion recounted that Robbie Ross at the age of 17 picked up Oscar in a public lavatory was actually the scurrilous tittle-tattle of the self-aggrandising pornographer Frank Harris, rather than the more prosaic truth that Robbie came into Oscar’s orbit because Constance (Emily Watson in the film) and Robbie’s mother were both active in the Chelsea Women’s Liberal Association. Of course, film-makers must be allowed some poetic licence, and Everett only had the length of a feature film to put over his concept of Wilde, a person who has dominated much of his artistic thinking for years (as it did earlier with Stephen Fry). The title of the film comes from Oscar’s first real literary success, a book of short stories for children, originally composed for his young sons, Cyril and Vyvyan, but then polished and made suitable for an adult audience as well, with a profound moral message, unlike some of the sanctimonious twaddle wrapped up in some other Victorian fairy tales. The story is used imaginatively to bookend the film, and is at other times cleverly woven into the narrative. So although this movie is not perfect, there is much in it that is beautiful, and sad, and gives one cause for reflection.

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Donald Sinden at 90

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 5th November, 2013

Before I left London on my latest foreign lecture tour I was delighted to join the celebrations marking the actor Donald Sinden’s 90th birthday at the Garrick Club in Covent Garden. He has lost none of his impish sense of humour and is one of those thespians who has won thousands of admirers. His voice is unmistakable and even the slightest anecdote becomes a memorable performance when he delivers it. Along with fellow Garrick member Stephen Fry, Donald and I are honorary Patrons of the Oscar Wilde Society, but whereas I have merely written about the great playwright and social reformer, and Stephen impersonated him, Donald encountered Oscar’s nemesis Bosie Douglas when he was a lad – an encounter he enjoys recalling with particular relish. Very unusually, the Garrick renamed one of its function rooms in Donald’s honour, and it was a most merited accolade.

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Nick Clegg’s Equal Marriage Celebration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th September, 2013

Admiralty HouseNick Clegg LGBTSo quickly has public opinion moved that it seems almost unbelievable that the last Labour government shied away from upgrading same-sex civil partnerships to ‘marriage’ because of the fear of a backlash (including from some of their MPs). But it is a tribute to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (strongly and admirably supported by PM David Cameron) that he oversaw the relatively smooth transition into law of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act this summer. In an appropriately informal speech at a reception in Admiralty House, Westminster, this evening, he paid just tribute to Lynne Featherstone as the then Equalities Minister (subsequently replaced by Jo Swinson) and Baroness (Liz) Barker, who made a moving and heartfelt personal act of testimony in a speech in the House of Lords. As a Quaker (and therefore part of a religious group which has recognised the validity of loving same-sex relationships for several decades) I have been saddened by how far behind most of the mainstream Churches are on this. It was also heartening that some of the supportive luvvies, including my old friend Stephen Fry and Hugh Grant, turned out tonight, as did hardcore campaigners such as the truly noble Peter Tatchell (who has been a beacon for the LGBT+ community in Russia). Of course there was a good sprinkling of LibDem MPs and Lords, but this was not an occasion for narrow party politics. We were one big happy group, straight, gay and bi/trans +, celebrating the fact that we had won, and in doing so had proved what an open and tolerant society Britain has become, even if a minority still can’t quite get their heads around it.


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Nick Clegg’s Equal Marriage Celebration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th September, 2012

The right-wing media and a few Tory rent-a-gobs such as Peter Bone, MP, have got themselves into quite a lather over the past 24 hours because of Nick Clegg’s alleged description of opponents to Equal Marriage as ‘bigots’. The fact that he actually did not use that term (it was in an unfortunately unverified pre-release email, until spotted and removed) and indeed would never have used that term in this context has not stopped the bile from pouring out from those self-appointed defenders of the ‘sanctity’ of marriage. The hint of scandal — or if not scandal, gaffe — meant there were TV cameras outside 1 Carlton Terrace when guests turned up for a reception last night to celebrate the Equal Civil Marriage Consultation. Inside the building the paparazzi naturally gravitated towards the luvvies, including Hugh Grant, Stephen Fry, Simon Callow and Derren Brown, as well as to a positive conclave of bishops in purple, some from churches I had never heard of. But the majority of those present were the old troupers of the LGBT rights movement, such as Peter Tatchell, and an astonishing number of LGBT+ Liberal Democrat councillors and MPs. Nick Clegg spoke well, paying fitting tribute to Lynne Featherstone (also present), as the consultation — which will, one hopes, lead to legislation, though one must not prejudice its outcome — was her baby until she was shifted sideways to DFID in the recent government reshuffle. Jo Swinson is taking her place as a Minister of State for Equalities, which is a welcome addition to the LibDem ministerial team.

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Twitter and the Political Process

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th June, 2009

TwitterWhereas the Obama campaign last year thrust Facebook into the limelight as the social networking tool of preference for politicans who are cool — or a least care about connecting with the younger generation — Twitter has now vaulted into prime position as the instrument for quick and snappy communication, particularly in the love-hate interface between politics and the media. Though a comparatively late convert to the practice (despite the proselytising of my friend, Stephen Fry), I’ve been finding it hugely useful in recent weeks and have noted how one can enter into dialogue with politicians of other parties as well as with journalists and bloggers of all persuasions, who are quite happy to ‘follow’ one on Twitter, but who might not wish to ask or accept to be one’s Facebook ‘friend’, in case that were seen to be some kind of endorsement. And the same is true in the other direction! Moreover, the 140-character limit, while being constraining, is actually a very useful discipline, and when well-handled, can be as communicative as a Japanese haiku. As a means of posting a news ‘headline’ or a succinct political point, it is matchless.

Putting my journalist’s hat on for a moment, I suppose the event which really awakened me to Twitter’s impact and potential was the popular political movement in Moldova a few months back, when suddenly one could follow what was going on in the streets, as it happened, from among the people taking part. Something very similar has been occuring in Iran over the past couple of days, albeit often from a more partisan standpoint. God knows what the next great communicative breakthrough will be (thought transfer?), but for the time being, Twitter is a wonderful thing!


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Frying Tonight

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th May, 2009

Stephen FryI’m increasingly being asked, ‘So, what are you going to do after the election, then?’, to which the obvious response is: ‘that depends on the result!’ But because the UK votes on Thursday, whereas most of the Continent only goes to the polls at the weekend, the results of the European elections won’t be known in London until Sunday evening. Which leaves a hiatus of  almost three days.

 Jonathan Fryer 017The Friday plan is easy, as it’s my birthday and I’ll have to clear all the accumulated clutter from the house in preparation for an early evening party for my fellow candidates and election team, to thank them for all their hard work (which is still going on!). But Saturday is more ‘exotic’ and totally non-political, as Stephen Fry and I — both Patrons of the Oscar Wilde Society — have a long-standing engagement to perform at ‘Oscance’: the 125th anniversary of the wedding of Oscar Wilde to Constance Lloyd, at St James Paddington, compered by the broadcaster Christopher Cook. Stephen will be interviweed about playing Oscar in the film ‘Wilde’, as well as reading the story ‘The Young King’. I will be reading passages relating to the theme ‘Wilde about London’.

Tickets for the event are available only through advance booking, for a donation of a minimum of £15 each (the Church is raising funds to erect a beautiful screen in Wilde’s memory), available from Oscance, 39 Westbourne Gardens, London W2 5NR. Bookings asap. The performance is on Saturday, 6 June, starting at 3pm, with sparkling wine and canapés.


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