Jun 3, 1998 at 12:00 am

One good thing about Brian Gilbert's Wilde is that it doesn't hedge on any facts of the playwright's life. In one of the film's opening scenes, Oscar Wilde is seduced by Canadian Robert Ross and forced to confront his homosexuality. Ross' nude body is displayed prominently in both Wilde's sight and ours. We grasp the bare essentials regarding the writer's controversial and life-changing turn; it's all there in living color.

The life of Oscar Wilde as chronicled in Richard Ellmann's acclaimed biography is hardly ruffling, in a contemporary sense, for its homosexual content, which only makes it fitting for a modern biopic today. Director Gilbert gels with screenwriter Julian Mitchell and actor Stephen Fry to render the writer's heroic aspects in full stature. With a wistful glance and casually wry speaking voice, Fry captures the essence of Wilde in all its razory splendor. The writer is stylishly garbed and well-received at one of the film's initial formal dinner parties. "What for?" asks a lady in attendance. "For being himself," responds an informed guest.

Eventually, Wilde's composed mind-set and distinguished social rank would begin to unfurl on his meeting the 22-year-old Lord Alfred Douglas, otherwise known as "Bosie." The dazzling Bosie as played by Jude Law is a perfect foil for Wilde's acerbic cool: harshly outspoken, fiery and extremely bratty.

As Wilde develops and debuts his play, The Importance of Being Earnest, he and Bosie pursue an affair of all-consuming passion. Wilde and "his boy" flaunt their ambiguously close relationship with total abandon, even in a restaurant where Douglas' father, the irksome Marquess of Queensberry, dines.

The catastrophic strife between Wilde and the hoglike Marquess is played with intense focus and availing humor as the playwright is inexorably dragged into a libel case in regard to his improprieties. Fry's Wilde energizes the entire film with brilliant remarks courtesy of Mitchell, but even his recommended "silver bullets" for the Marquess cannot help him.

Wilde's publicly revealed liaison with Bosie, and its punishment, would eventually cost him his life. The true tragedy, in contrast to Wilde's closing statement, lay in Victorian society's dash to dispatch the wit that upset its sanctimonious order.

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