Directed and Written by #AymericNicolet
Short Film Review by Jack Bottomley
Sometimes history’s greatest struggles make for its greatest inspirations. In a day and age where people pride themselves on being a part of an advanced and civilised society, one that is accepting, diverse and respectful, it can be hard to look back on a less enlightened and downright cruel past. Now, especially in the state things are in at the moment, the ugliness of prejudice, selfishness and violence continues to rear its head, even today but things have improved from what they once were. All the same, this short film from writer/director #AymericNicolet looks back at such an era and still has a lot to say for our current one in the process.
The late 1800s hold a particular place in the history of iconic poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, as it was a time (not long before his death in 1900) where he was imprisoned for charges of “gross indecency”. Wilde - while in prison - witnessed a hanging of a former Royal Horse Guard, that would inspire his poem ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ and this film takes inspiration from that text.
Set in 1897, certain details of the story are slightly altered but this is a take on history and in presenting Wilde’s grief, mistreatment and physical/mental crumbling in the face of his prison life, Reading Gaol is an effective interpretation. Portraying a tired, abused and unwell Wilde, whose connections to those he cares for begin to separate of disintegrate, this story is one of the power of the written word, and the liberative power at that. Only in his writing does Wilde receive a freedom, a voice and a form of expression and this film captures that very well.
Again some details of the true story are not 100% accurate, the ages of people or the specific events which occurred during the film’s 1897 setting but Nicolet’s film cares for this story and its author and it shows the brutality and overpowering injustice of the time. A Leeds Beckett University Northern Film School Production, this is made with aplomb and excels as a piece of period craft, with a emotional underlying soul.
Director of photography #MaheshBharadwajRamakrishna captures perfectly the cold, unforgiving and grey prison setting, which is as absent of life, love and warmth, as those who patrol its corridors as the authority. The production design by #KatCecil is equally effective, with likewise excellent costume work by #HollyLees, that goes from ragged, worn and filth-soaked to sophisticated and elegant, and it goes hand-in-hand with great make-up work by #ShaunaCane (who realistically brings to life a horrific and hard to watch early interrogation sequence). Meanwhile the music by #KatiePhillips is more pulled back, with a haunting edge to it that suits the story.
#PaulDewdney as Wilde is very good, capturing that sense of a vibrant soul, extinguished by the time in which he lives and the losses he faces. #RoísínMonaghan offers sturdy support as Wilde’s wife Constance, conflicted by who her husband is but challenged also by what he is subjected to. While #RogerBingham is scarily fiery and inhuman as a nasty warder, who relishes threatening and dishing out his depraved “duty”.
Reading Gaol is an expression of an iconic figure nearing the end of his days, which pays tribute to a poem’s power, by displaying that power over a century on and showing how it still moves and impacts us.