(director/director: Ken Hughes; screenwriters: from the book by Montgomery Hyde and a play. “The Stringed Lute,” by John Furnell; cinematographer: Ted Moore; editor: Geoffrey Foot; music: Roro Doodwin; cast: Peter Finch (Oscar Wilde), Lionel Jeffries ( John Sholto Douglas, Marquis of Queensberry), James Mason (Sir Edward Carson), Nigel Patrick (Sir Edward Clarke), John Fraser (Lord Alfred Douglas), Sonia Dresdel (Lady Wilde), James Booth (Alfred Wood), Maxine Audley (Ada Leverson), Paul Rogers (Frank Harris), Ian Fleming (Arthur, the Wilde Butler), Laurence Naismith (Prince of Wales); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Harold Huth/Irving Allen/Albert R. Broccoli; Kingsley International Pictures (MGM); 1960-UK)

Peter Finch gives a moving performance as Wilde.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Written and directed by Ken Hughes (“Cromwell”/”The Long Haul”). It’s from the book by Montgomery Hyde and a play, “The Stringed Lute,” by John Furnell. The plush Technicolor biopic is set in London during the 1890s. The witty celebrity playwright Oscar Wilde (Peter Finch) sues the Marquis of Queensberry (Lionel Jeffries) for libel after being accused of being a homosexual, but drops the case. Wilde is then prosecuted by the crown for sodomy, as the obsessed Marquis of Queensberry is set on destroying Wilde for corrupting his spoiled self-centred son Lord Alfred Douglas (John Fraser) when he got bounced from Oxford and presents evidence of the married family man Wilde with male prostitutes. The first trial ended in a hung jury. The crown pursued a second trial that ended in a conviction and a sentence of two years at hard labor. The daring film for the time, because of its homosexual subject matter, was a box-office failure in the States-one of the few places it opened. It is lushly photographed. The heterosexual Australian actor Peter Finch gives a moving performance as Wilde. John Fraser is fine as the handsome and petulant young Lord Alfred Douglas. The court battles result in Wilde’s downfall. But the court scenes, with James Mason as the foe of the Victorian era playwright, do not have the power those scenes deserved. It was produced at a time when homosexual behavior was illegal in most countries and its depiction on screen was censored in 1960 Great Britain. The ban on homosexual depictions lasted there until 1961. Though the film was still banned by local censorship boards. In 1960 another film on Wilde’s trials, filmed in b/w, based on a 1936 play, came out at the same time starring Robert Morley as Wilde.