Tripping up in the footsteps of Oscar Wilde

Review: Vivien Horler

To the End of the World – Travels with Oscar Wilde, by Rupert Everett (Little, Brown/ Jonathan Ball)

If ever you’ve thought of making a feature film – and you probably haven’t – sit down quietly until the urge passes.

I know a bit of what I’m talking about: my nephew has produced two films (one of them, Flatland, a Western set in the Karoo, is currently on circuit) and found the experience exhausting, expensive and frequently heartbreaking.

But if you really want to know what it’s like, read Rupert Everett’s To the End of the World, a 10-year quest to make a movie about the last years of Oscar Wilde’s life. He describes it as a “snakes and ladders” effort, repeatedly nearly there, only to be swallowed by a snake and slithering back down to square one.

Rupert Everett was in Another Country, about two gay boys at an English public school, and is probably best remembered for his role in the hilarious My Best Friend’s Wedding, starring with Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz.

He seems to see himself as something of a has-been queen – referring occasionally to when he was a “real” Hollywood star – although his impressive resume on his Wikipedia entry belies this.

Famously gay, he thought a film about Oscar Wilde would be welcomed by the LGBTQ world and that the money to make it with would pour in. He wrote the script, put himself forward as the director and star, and then began the effort of finding an investor or three.

People show interest, and then drop out. Everyone thinks the script is great, but then it turns out no one’s actually read it. One potential investor says he’s keen, but wants someone else to direct it. Everett refuses, and looks back on this decision as a big mistake. At least the movie would have been made.

In the meantime Everett follows in Wilde’s footsteps around Europe, particularly Naples, where he spent his last years in exile. Everett finds the house he lived in, almost unrecognisable among heaps of modern buildings. He meets some wonderful and strange people, and acts in a TV series The Musketeers, and a film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Eventually a pair of Germans sign up, with funding from a German film board, provided half the Wilde movie is set in Bavaria. This was not where Wilde went, but locations are found and a plan is made.

And so – eventually – is the film. Which more or less bombs. Joan Collins comes to the screening by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where  Everett is told they’ve got a great crowd for a Sunday, but it turns out there’s hardly anyone there.

Afterwards Everett says to Collins: “I feel sorry for anyone sitting behind you in that hat.”

She replies: “Darling. There wasn’t anyone sitting behind me.”

The LGBTQ community, on whom Everett had pinned his hopes, was uninterested. “We didn’t even register. Possibly I was the wrong type of queen… I couldn’t even get an interview with Out Magazine.”

And yet, like the trouper he is, Everett goes on. He made the film, he gets more work, and he writes wryly, self-deprecatingly and often hilariously of the process in this memoir (which is in fact his third). I enjoyed it a great deal.



One thought on “Tripping up in the footsteps of Oscar Wilde

  1. David Bristow

    I read, I think, his first – basically his salad days, bio and it was charming. Being gay in upper crust England 60s and 70s was apparently no hardship as, say, it would have been in, say, Vereeneging (as was a good friend of mine). Funny to learn he is younger then I.


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