Picture of Dorian Gray
A frightening insight into the fragile psychology of man faced with the relentless passage of time.
Based on Oscar Wilde’s novel of 1890, this retelling, adapted and directed by Sean Aydon, is much less a traditional gothic horror and more a gripping, if somewhat challenging, psychological thriller, focussed on the trade-off between hedonistic pursuits and the fragility of age. Playing on the same framework as Coleridge’s version of Faust, (but with less devil and more scotch) we witness the descent of young socialite Dorian Gray (Gavin Fowler – Penny Dreadful) from the innocent pup into a hardened and self-destructive cynic with a god complex so full of hubris as to challenge the very fabric of time itself.
The eponymous portrait, crafted by gentle and loyal Basil Hallward (the brilliant Daniel Goode – The Bill, Hustle, Shadowlands) remains ever present though never really seen, hanging more like a shadow of doom over the proceedings and creating an ever purveying sense of foreboding. As young Gray is gradually and systematically hardened by Lord Henry Wotton (Jonathan Wrather – Emmerdale, Silent Witness, Bones) we see him release his grip on traditional values; his brazen dismissal of young actress Sybil Vane (the delightful Kate Dobson – Car Share, Fresh Meat) for whom he had professed love and indeed proposed, led to her taking her own life. Instead of feeling grief and sorrow, Lord Henry persuades Gray to embrace life as a toy to be played with, only those who treat and treasure it as a finite commodity feel the pain of loss.
The Portrait of Dorian Gray is oft told as a simple tale – a man’s portrait is kept hidden and, following a pact with god (or the devil), the picture begins to age while Gray the man remains youthful. In this version we are not given much indication as to the passing of time, in fact it is almost incidental, as the trade-off between portrait and man is as much about Gray’s soul and his ability to continue to commit heinous acts without showing any signs of guilt or remorse than it is about looking old. Indeed, as he progresses, he even sees decisions to ‘be good’ (which can mean not killing someone when he was sorely tempted) as something to be celebrated rather than the usual baseline of acceptable behaviour.
Aydon’s version is certainly more thought provoking afterwards than it is during, in fact it was not until having slept on it that the more nuanced messages became apparent, but perhaps that is more a sign of how linear a lot of storytelling has become recently – indeed it was enjoyable to be challenged by a production which was neither formulaic nor predictable and I wager it will be appealing to many who seek a more ‘grown up’ tale before bedtime.