To the Finish of the World by Rupert Everett evaluate – a pleasant author on fashionable fame | Autobiography and memoir
ΤHere are, for both simple and obvious reasons, some literary personalities who inspire a kind of hero cult that undoubtedly says a lot more about fans than heroes. Charles Dickens’ obsessives often want to share the famous energy and brilliance of their idol, or at least reflect it lightly. Young women who adore Sylvia Plath ignore her happy poems about domestic bliss and instead focus on the most angry, sad parts of her work. Oscar Wilde’s obsessions go one step further: they do not just understand Wilde – it is Wilde, with all the spirit and sorrow that this package entails. Stephen Fry went through a Wilde phase and Rupert Everett has been through one for quite some time.
This was more for the benefit of the audience than Everett: he was great on stage as Wilde in The Judas Kiss in 2012 and The Happy Prince, the 2018 film he wrote, directed and starred in Wilde’s last days, is great. Easily the most thoughtful and less gilded portrayal of Wilde yet, the film is far from the self-evident narcissism for Everett that it could have been.
This, however, is a miracle, judging by this memoir about the time leading up to the making of the film. “I’m Oscar Wilde,” Everett writes after another momentous moment, which generally entails him to go somewhere Wilde once visited. The chances of dating – meeting Wilde’s grandson, learning that his own aunt had an affair with Wilde’s son – are considered so deeply by Everett, as it is when one is in a passionate love.
However, it is difficult to write logically, let alone pleasantly, when you are deep in a myopic mania. Wilde himself just got it out with De Profundis. Considering how much Everett is fooling around in this book, wasting what his friend Philip Prowse rightly describes as “all this energy” in the channeling of Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas (“They are both so fucking, dear. I know.” that you love them but sincerely… “, He does quite well. Everett’s joy as a writer has always been his untouched prospect, especially for himself. The only condition of a fan is the loss of all objectivity. As obedient, these two qualities are as complex as Wilde and Douglas.
As he moved to the BBC’s The Musketeers set, he thought: “It’s not very stylish to be in a means of transporting people.”
Everett is probably as well known now for his writing as he is for his acting, a comment he will probably take as a mockery of the latter, judging by the painful pleasure he gives these days seeing his full glass as dry bone. “My career has definitely hit the ‘where are you now’ category,” he writes, when a look at the full IMDB page suggests something different. But his latest work often feels like a step down: when he’s transferred to the BBC’s The Musketeers, he thinks: “It’s not very stylish to be in a company.
In any case, Everett has become one of the most enjoyable writers of modern fame. His previous memoirs, the wild red carpets and other banana skins, followed by the most extinct autumn years, were elegant, indistinguishable and witty, as one would expect. The most amazing thing was how beautifully they were written, painfully but with an emphasis on faded beauty rather than simple emotionality. Here it is in the new book about the joys of the train: “Once I find myself on the trail and the past falls back, I experience a kind of weightless ecstasy, a relaxed love for the world, which looks better than a passing train. Even one’s problems achieve a kind of fin de siècle glow. “
Everett (left) with Colin Firth in another country (1984). Photo: Ronald Grant
If Everett remembers trying to get drunk talking to Thierry Henry (“What team are you playing for? Arsehole; Great answer…”) or recalling Lizzie, the transsexual who was hanged decades ago in Paris (” he only has to look at a motorcycle and it falls. After six years in the game he is a chips doll “), is someone you want to spend time with. He has a writing style as seductive as his youthful beauty.
In 2007 he decided to write a screenplay for Wilde: “If the only role I was allowed to play was gay’s best friend, then I would go back to the original.” At first, everything looks promising and Hollywood producer Scott Rudin wants to create his own script, with the great and now late Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Wilde. In an act of self-sabotage that is honestly Wildean in proportions, Everett only insists that he can play Wilde. And so the project collapses.
But Everett keeps it alive, almost, for the next decade, fueled by his increasingly torturous obsession with it and aided by loyal actor-friends who agree to appear in the film, he eventually appears, little or not at all. At one point, she goes to Colin Firth’s house and begs him with tears to be in the movie – they disagreed – and a somewhat annoyed Firth agrees. During one of their scenes together, Everett thinks about how things have changed since they starred in another country, 35 years earlier: “Then I was the rising star climbing on a windowsill holding a pair of binoculars. Now it is rising and I am the whale on the beach.
It’s a reason for the absurdity of filmmaking (“I just shot all of Colin, but my heart is not really in it. It does not matter. It’s amazing what one can do with a bottle of Guinness”), as well as dignity of his deflating ego. He never gets a similar perspective on his devotion to Wilde or this movie. “Is it a desperate last-class journey or divine intervention?” he wonders, and never solves it himself (others may have their own theory).
Quite how seriously the reader takes Everett’s somewhat annoyed relationship with Wilde probably depends on their tolerance of the literary cult hero. Mine is pretty low, but every sentence Everett writes strikes with his personality and is a personality that has always been irresistible. And hell, the movie is great, so maybe it was worth it in the end. At some point, it would be a lot of fun to get someone else into Everett’s Wilde phase – Firth, for example, who expresses his concern for his boyfriend during the extremely full-length movie: “Are you okay?” he asks. “You look a little finished.” “I activate!” Everett pushes back into Firth and then adds as a tip to the reader: “You have to act; everything works smoothly.” Wilde would have approved.
• To the End of the World: Travels With Oscar Wilde is published by Little, Brown (20 £). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.