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Dorian Gray is the retelling of the 19th Century novel by Oscar Wilde.  It tells the tale of a young and innocent socialite’s downward spiral into mayhem, murder and madness.  Having moved to London to set up residence in his late Grandfather’s estate, Dorian Gray (Ben Barnes) allows new acquaintance Basil ( Ben Chaplin ) to paint his portrait.  Having previously not considered his own natural beauty, Dorian is taken aback to see himself in a new light, but is reminded  by aging genteel Lord Henry (Colin Firth) that youth and beauty are fleeting and  cannot be relied upon for long.  Henry preaches of a life of self-gratification and debauchery, and the innocent and wide-eyed Dorian becomes sucked in to a world of free and easy sex and pleasure which Henry only scratches the surface of.  It is worth mentioning that this is not a film you should see with your parents. It is all done quite tastefully and with an edge of humour, but the sexual content is pretty full-on.

Early in his new life, Dorian begins to notice changes to his portrait which hangs in pride of place on his wall.  After cutting his hand, he finds that his scars heal quickly but that blood now runs from the portrait subject’s hand, and the eye begins to weep after Dorian’s actions cause his fiancee to throw herself into the river and drown herself.  Realising the correlation between his actions and the changes to his portrait, Dorian hides the portrait in his attic and keeps the only key around his neck, and devotes the rest of his life to keeping the secret.  Throughout the rest of  his immoral life, Dorian remains as youthful and handsome as ever, as his every sin becomes apparent in his likeness in the portrait.  As those around him age, so does the Dorian in the portrait grow old and haggard.  In terms of the portrait, I felt that without prior knowledge of the book it was not made clear early enough what was actually happening, and further to this it is suggested that it could not actually be happening at all.  In the beginning, maggots begin eating their way through the canvas and the picture appears patched with mould, and it is possible at this stage that the changes to the portrait are caused by nothing but an unclean environment, and that Dorian’s immortality is all in his head.  It is not until he leaves London for some 20 years and returns no older than he left that it is beyond dispute that he is victim to some kind of curse.

As a viewer who has never read the book but always intended to, I did enjoy this film.  What ruined it for me, however, was the far too over-the-top use of special effects and sound effects.  I feel the portrait would have been far more dramatic had the subject remained in the same position, but there is one laughably silly moment when the camera zooms in to a mid-shot of the painting of Dorian with it’s mouth suddenly opening.  It reminded me an awful lot of the scene in Jurassic Park III where the dinosaur seems to be frozen in ice until it’s eye moves suddenly.  Only sillier.  And although the film’s narrative borderlines on sci-fi anyway and is clearly not intended as a true-to-life representation, the scene in which the portrait subjects begins rising from it’s frame pushed the whole film over the line into the realm of the absolute ridiculous.  Having a similar effect is the throaty moan that escapes from the portrait with annoying regularity and haunts Dorian’s nightmares.  The portrait’s ‘voice’ is how one might imagine the amalgamation of Darth Vader’s breathy speech with the sound effect motif in The Grudge series.

The best thing about this film is Colin Firth.  Having become a little mature for his usual romantic comedies, this is a suitable film for him to make the transition from charming fool to dignified older gentleman.  The film is very slow in getting going, largely due to far too muc character introduction and development, and Harry is the only character I felt this worked with.  Throughout most of the film he plays the antagonist – encouraging Dorian in his exploits and living vicariously through him.  Towards the end of the film, however, he narrowly escapes becoming a victim, and eventually becomes the hero, albeit unsung.

I would recommend this film to anybody with an appreciation for old school novel adaptations, or vampire/sci-fi thrillers.  It is an entertaining enough film, but is by no means astounding and I doubt that it will ever become a classic, even if later adaptations succeed.