Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray Starring Fionn Whitehead

Andy Howells reviews The Picture of Dorian Gray based on Oscar Wilde’s original story by Henry Filloux-Bennett and directed by Tamara Harvey.

It’s a mind-blowing concept to envisage what the writer, Oscar Wilde, would have made of Henry Filloux-Bennett’s staged for screen 21st century adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Originally published in 1890, The Picture of Dorian Gray was deemed controversial and challenging on original publication as it highlighted a seemingly worldly view that beauty and sensual fulfillment were pivotal in life. Filloux-Bennett’s narrative is re-imagined in the world of the present-day pandemic, but seemingly set in an all too familiar platform fueled for self-obsession consisting of social media text messaging, face-timing, YouTube and Instagram feeds.

Fionn Whitehead as Dorian Gray in The Picture of Dorian Gray based on Oscar Wilde’s original story by Henry Filloux-Bennett and directed by Tamara Harvey

Dorian Gray Goes Online In The 21st Century

Dorian himself is a less than confident second-year English student who sets up his own YouTube channel to connect with others as he pursues his studies. He quickly builds a following, but his real-life relationships are less prominent, with only a long-term friend Harry Wotton and the distant but ever-present Basil Hallward been confidents in his life. Dorian champions the talented actress and singer, Sibyl Vane through his channel and develops an all-consuming online relationship with her, but even that is about to take an unfortunate twist.

As Dorian in Wilde’s original Faustian tale sells his soul in order that a portrait of himself ages rather than himself, the Dorian in this presentation takes a scarily readily available worldly path. To the outside world, Dorian retains an idealistic state of visual beauty to his followers. However, filters and apps hide a trail of corruption, selfishness and suffering supplemented by a strain on the central characters personal mental health.

Compelling Dorian Gray Presentation Is Immersive

The Picture of Dorian Gray is told via absorbing real-time video conversations between Alfred Enoch’s Harry Wotton, Stephen Fry’s Interviewer and Joanna Lumley’s Lady Narborough. The presentation, beautifully directed by Tamara Harvey, becomes quickly compelling. The subjects are frequently talking to camera, focusing on familiar worlds of zoom chats and face timing. Ultimately, this creates an immersive experience for the viewer, while occasionally throwing out visual surprises, such as when Sybil makes a desperate attempt to reach out to Dorian.

All the characters convey an idealistic sense of worldly beauty from Lady Narborough to Harry Wotton. Yet, each character’s vanity quickly rises to the surface. Russell Tovey’s Basil is rarely seen, but frequently heard and develops a Catfishing persona to corrupt Dorian. However, its Emma McDonald’s Sibyl Vane and Fionn Whitehead’s Dorian that resonate so wonderfully human as they seek acceptance, but remain so eternally tragic as they reach their outcomes.

If You Love Sherlock, You’ll Love Dorian Grey

The Picture of Dorian Gray not only spotlights a dark side to social media, but recalls, as Wilde originally presented it, the ugliness of human actions towards others. Something which is more prevalent as we come to depend on social media as a form of communication in a Coronavirus-stricken world.

From Holly Pigott’s intimate sets to Benjamin Collins photography, The Picture of Dorian Gray retains a compelling edginess that seems missing from most current television and film presentations. Complemented by music and sound design from Harry Smith and an original song by Jered Zeus, the whole gamut of television, film, radio and theatre fuses together, becoming staged for screen and retaining a wondrous live flow throughout the proceedings.

If you loved Sherlock, you’ll love The Picture of Dorian Gray. It’s as much a must-see presentation and will give you food for thought the next time you scroll through your socials.

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray is co-produced by the Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre, Oxford Playhouse and Theatr Clwyd.
  • The production is suitable for those 16+. Conent warning: The Picture of Dorian Gray includes extremely strong language and references to suicide and mental illness that some viewers may find upsetting.
  • Tickets to view The Picture of Dorian Gray are available until March 31, 2021. Click here for further details.
  • Read Andy Howells interview with Tamara Harvey.

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