Omnibus (1997) – Oscar Wilde

June 17, 2015

‘Writer Michael Bracewell presents an unusual and provocative look at the life and legacy of Oscar Wilde. With contributions from Stephen Fry, Neil Tennant and Tom Stoppard. (1997)’ – iPlayer

Fun to see the fashions of the late 90s…didn’t think that we’d change. We haven’t so much – bit by bit though. Michael Bracewell’s elegant rock’a’billy takes things back. He was going back, further: So, Sgt Pepper took a hold of a frock-coated freedom, Harry Nilsson channelled the American Standard of the 1930s, the New Romantics Rossetti and others.

Oscar Wilde – not only good, not just very good, but great! Omnibus explore and make a good fist. Delicious to see the mean ‘Dilly dives and base taverns referenced with that slightly breathless – if mindful – tone of the straight world that looks on – dazzled yet safe and at a distance; Bosie Douglas and the lads of the darkened lanes brought rakishly to life as ghosts in a 90s Soho; the note of the cautionary tale clinging faintly to the deftly-crafted narrative: the story of a figure whose greatness is born as much from the art of his being as from the substance of his work. We have the man, his art, his love, his iconography, his pain and his paradox. We also have the Who, Bowie, and Elton – modern dandies, modern heroes; we move from situated urban to the Victorian at point / counter-point between the 18 and 19 hundreds. Fin de siècle sympathies linger in the studied, endearing passage of Bracewell’s sojourn. Then, he still as of 97, had a poster of Wilde on his wall, with Bowie’s long gone he tells us. His is a sincere passion that’s clear enough amidst his careful insouciance.

Tom Stoppard wonders if instead of offering the ‘disservice’ of seeing Wilde as a gay hero, we ought rather to see him as a hero for us all. In 2015, I’d wonder what purpose such differentiation might serve?

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