To the Finish of the World by Rupert Everett assessment – witty memoir of a Wilde life | Autobiography and memoir
R.Uvert Everett was five years old when he first heard the name Oscar Wilde. On the night in question, his mother hid in bed under the gables of a pink farmhouse somewhere deep in Essex, she had broken off her pre-dinner embellishments to read to him. The story she chose was one of the ones Wilde wrote for children, The Happy Prince, and it was quick to cast its spell on her son. When they reached their end a week later, the boy was in tears, in spite of what he did not quite understand, his inner morality (“Dear little swallow,” said the prince, “you tell me about wonderful things, but more wonderful than anything other is the suffering of men and women ”). This was, as Everett writes, a “bold move” by his mother, perhaps her greatest contribution to his emotional development: “This is the first time I learn that there is something that is called love and that it usually has a price. “
Everett’s new memoir, his third, is the story of his ongoing obsession with Wilde and how it forced him to make a film about the doomed writer, a decades-long quest that, although ultimately successful, landed him in places brought the edge of reason. It starts with a thick suit that comes with “baboon moobs and a wonderful knee-length ass” (Everett is a little less meaty than poor old savage even in middle age) and ends with a much less slapstick whose author is finally finding peace . of some sort in a room at the Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood. In between, it’s almost anything you could want, at least in an actor’s treatise. We now know that Everett is a deliciously gifted writer. Nothing and nobody escapes his attention, and in this book he is as good with Laurellee and Mary Jay, a few American tourists he meets on a night train to Rome, as he is with Luise Rainer and Gregory Peck (see also Joan Collins and Christopher Biggins). But there’s something else here: a plangency and depth of feeling that can do weird things to all of the pictures you have of him in your head (to be honest, I’ve had pictures of Rupert Everett in my head when I first saw him in another country).
If he undermines his sincerity – tenderness is haunted by a barb – it serves to make his narrative all the more heartfelt
Whether he describes a pair of stairs in Naples, sags in an inner courtyard like “the laces of old stays” or tries to imagine what it might have been like to be Wilde’s long-suffering wife (“A look in Oskar’s eyes must have shown a sensitive woman like Constance, who he had gone. But where to? She must have felt like she was disappearing “), the reader feels that he can do anything. For example, I’d rather read Everett about the faded joys of a grand old Venice hotel than anything from a so-called travel writer to Bruce Chatwin. His big trick is that, unlike the corpse makeup he preferred as a young man, he doesn’t apply it with a trowel. If he undermines his sincerity – tenderness is always haunted by a barb – it only serves to make his narrative all the more heartfelt. (“Syphilis probably, but in the exciting phase,” he finally remarks at a moment when, as Wilde wants to go on stage in a production of David Hare’s play The Judas Kiss, he suddenly has the feeling, “has the whole universe stopped in his tracks ”.)
The daily business of filmmaking can be a chore on the side, all budgets and cranes and angry photography directors. But Everett brings it to life, his (sometimes) blatant shortcomings as a first-time director – his film about Wilde’s tragic final years, The Happy Prince, released with moderate acclaim in 2018 – a vibrating lid on his minor-league Heaven’s Gate saucepan. It’s next to impossible to write about acting without sounding like a pretentious fool, but somehow he does. “At other times, it seems pretty empty, which I think is an essential quality for film acting,” he writes of Edwin Thomas, who plays Wilde’s friend Robbie Ross in the film.
It goes without saying that To End of the World is fun and shabby. But since very few show business citizens are willing to be as honest as they are about all the ways in which it will never love you again, the book’s most powerful pull is inevitably appreciative. Everett is old, he insists, and “the wrong kind of queen”; Hollywood has zipped up and turned its back on it. Does that mean we care about him? Do we only occasionally think of him as the Leder Norma Desmond? No never. As lavish and capricious as his first job may be, we know he is perfectly safe. The blank page will always be his from now on. He’s a writer for his (aching) bones.
• To the End of the World by Rupert Everett is published by Little, Brown (£ 2o). To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. Shipping costs may apply