dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Discover what truly lies behind the face on the screen
Oscar Wilde's gothic horror classic is brought into the modern day not only by setting the tale into the age of social media but also by streaming it into people's homes. Wilde's story tells the tale of Dorian Gray, a young man-about-town whose face never shows any sign of ageing or of any corruption from life. But hidden in his attic is his real self – a portrait on which every evil he does is revealed in its true ugliness.
Adapted by Henry Filloux-Bennett and directed by Tamara Harvey, the team behind last year's What a Carve Up!, this new production closely follows Wilde's original story and characters but moves them into the age of the social media influencer.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Gray is just starting out on social media when he receives a birthday present, a filter which ensures he appears 'luminous' to his followers. With this new look and new-found confidence, Gray increases his social media postings and vastly increases his followers until he has gained a place as a modern-day influencer. But while he looks like an angel on-screen, his behaviour off-screen is anything but.
To be fair to this modern-day Gray, he's not quite the murderous villain of the Wilde classic but he certainly changes as the story progresses. And while on the small screen he continues to look like a modern-day Prince Charming, in reality his face shows the spite which lies inside.
Fionn Whitehead, who was widely acclaimed in the films Dunkirk and The Children Act, is hugely attractive as the somewhat shy social media start-up. His change, when he suddenly and viciously turns on girlfriend Sibyl Vane, is therefore slightly incongruous as, to that point, the audience has been given no hint he is anything other than a slightly soppy student.
Emma McDonald's Vane has some wonderful cameos as an up-and-coming actor who uses social media to perform a series of speeches from the classics. One moment she is staring dreamily into the camera quoting Twelfth Night and the next she emerges from the bath as a vacillating Hamlet.
Set during a COVID-19 lockdown, Harvey and Filloux-Bennett place the action retrospectively with Dorian's best friend Harry Wotton (Alfred Enoch) and late mother's best friend Lady Narborough (Joanna Lumley) being interviewed online by a somewhat under-used Stephen Fry.
Enoch is marvellously decadent as a foppish Wotton lounging on his sofa, twirling his moustache and raising a judicious eyebrow now and then. Lumley perches on a chair in an empty theatre, trotting out the lines she know are expected and waving her hand superciliously when asked if she feels responsible in any way.
Russell Tovey's Basil Hallward remains enigmatic and morally ambiguous. He gives Gray the filter but does not reveal any risks – does he know of them and, if so, why give this to a man he appears to adore? Harvey and Filloux-Bennett don't provide us any easy answers for his true motivation.
There are plenty of inspired coronavirus references – Lady Narborough's insistence the birthday party she organised was a socially distanced fundraiser for the theatre and Gray's seemingly socially-conscious use of a facemask is praised when in reality it is hiding his rotting features.
Wilde's story has undergone countless adaptations because the question at its heart is so fascinating – can evil be committed without tainting the perpetrator? The setting here is ideal with social media constantly posing questions about public versus private personas and reality versus appearance but, precisely because these subjects have been explored extensively elsewhere, it would have been interesting to see how much further Filloux-Bennett and Harvey could push both the story and the online representation of it.