Taking the gay out of Dorian Gray

<strong>Film<br />DORIAN GRAY<br />Cert: 12</strong><br /><br />THE Portrait of Dorian Gray is a story about a man with a terrible secret about the state of his soul, something that Oscar Wilde was no doubt very familiar with. While Dorian has his painting in his attic, Oscar was firmly in his closet.<br /><br />Like Jekyll and Hyde, Dorian Gray is also about what happens when repressive societies force people to conceal their true selves.<br /><br />In this version, though, magic has replaced metaphor, and the result is a bit of a disappointment. If you like gothic-lite &ndash; as, apparently many teenagers do today &ndash; you&rsquo;ll love this. At times I expected it to turn into a Cure video.<br /><br />There is one odd thing, though, and that is how hetero it is. In the book, Dorian and his mentor Henry Wotton (Colin Firth) inhabit a world that is very male, obsessed with male beauty, catty quips and bodily pleasure. Dorian Gray is the gayest story ever told.<br /><br />Hilariously &ndash; and presumably in order to make it Hollywood-friendly &ndash; in this version, however, Dorian likes girls. A series of boring and very tame orgy scenes attest to this. There is one moment that suggests that he might be a chameleon even in matters of sex which promises to make Dorian interesting. Sadly it is never followed up.<br /><br />The other problem is Ben Barnes, of Prince Caspian fame. He is far too wholesome a presence in the titular role. He lacks the sparkle in the eye that Dorian needs, and he is an unconvincing epicure. To call him wooden would also be an insult to mahogany.<br /><br />Dorian&rsquo;s story has been simplified into a tale of an inexperienced boy who is led astray by an older man, which makes it a conventional story with none of Wilde&rsquo;s magic.<br /><br />That said, the quips come thick and fast, although they are delivered without much passion. Colin Firth almost seems to cringe as he declares that &ldquo;the great thing about the past is that it is the past.&rdquo; Hmm. Elegantly waving a cigarette, while it helps, is not enough to turn a tautology into an epigram.<br /><br />Maybe I am being harsh. Rebecca Hall is good as Henry&rsquo;s suffragette daughter, and the tension at the end is played for all it&rsquo;s worth. Oddly, when you see the picture, it looks a bit like Bill Nighy.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <strong>Jeremy Hazlehurst</strong><br /><br /><strong><br /><br /><br /><br />JULIE AND JULIA<br />Cert: 12a</strong><br /><br />THIS FILM is the end result of a blog fairy tale. Julie Powell (the Julie of the film&rsquo;s title) had reached a low. Highly educated, with one unfinished novel to her name, she was mouldering away in a secretarial job in New York when her high school sweetheart husband suggested she start a blog about her favourite pastime &ndash; cooking. Powell decided to cook every single recipe in her idol Julia Child&rsquo;s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, and write about it. That year involved a lot of gastronomic as well as personal discovery, punctuated by the odd meltdown and marital row, culminating in an unbelievable publishing success.<br /><br />Julie&rsquo;s story is compelling, made all the more so by Amy Adams, who plays her in a cute, rather winning way while Chris Messina, who plays her well-fed, greedily munching husband, is also extremely likeable and sympathetic as he stands by while his wife throws marrow jellies angrily down the sink and falls asleep on the sofa at night waiting for the boeuf bourguignon to cook.<br /><br />This story, which takes place in 2002, is juxtaposed with the parallel one of Julia Child setting out on her career in food. Stationed in Paris in the 1950s with her beloved husband Paul (the adorable Stanley Tucci), Julia (Meryl Streep) falls in love with France and French food. With time on her hands, she takes a Cordon Bleu course, eventually teaming up with Simone Beck to write their famous recipe book. With her wacky, up-and-down voice, devilish sense of humour and irrepressible optimism and determination, she&rsquo;s a lovely character to watch, and Streep is a joy to watch. Her path from cookery student to teacher to published author was surprisingly long and challenging &ndash; especially after she and Paul had to leave Paris and live everywhere from Bonn to Oslo.<br /><br />The struggles and eventual triumph of the two women feel right in their own times, and each has its own distinct character. It&rsquo;s only at the very end that the stories intersect, and not in the way you&rsquo;d think. A must-see for all amateur cooks and anyone else who likes to watch sweet, funny and well-made movies.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <strong>Zoe Strimpel</strong><br /><br /><br /><strong>Theatre<br />LOLITA<br />The National</strong><br /><br />DESPITE tickets costing only &pound;10, this show was always going to have to be ingenious to work. Its concept &ndash; a severely cut one-man performance of Nabokov&rsquo;s novel Lolita &ndash; is so unpromising that anything but an act of blinding creativity on the part of American director Richard Nelson was going to seem very embarrassing. The page-bound version just sets too high a standard, and nothing less than brilliance will do.<br /><br />Preferably, it wouldn&rsquo;t just be a monologue, it would be a play. Or at least, if no other characters had speaking parts, there would be interesting staging, sounds and effects. This is what the theatre can add; and certainly what the National can add. Nabokov has already taken care of the rest.<br /><br />Yet from the moment this Lolita began, I wondered what on earth I &ndash; and the audience &ndash; were doing there. Never mind that the podgy, pale Brian Cox was so far from the sexy man I imagine for Humbert Humbert (Jeremy Irons in the 2002 film version was about right). Never mind that the staging consisted of a half-hearted setting in an asylum or prison; Humbert in pyjamas moving between a bed and a chair, to the sound of vague institutional noises in the background.<br /><br />No, the immediate, inescapable fact that puts one off for good is that Cox is simply reading the script. It strikes you that he hasn&rsquo;t been bothered to learn it. He makes mistakes &ndash; as you do when you read rather than recite. He is physically restrained &ndash; as you are when holding onto a book that you must read from.<br /><br />It&rsquo;s pleasant enough listening to Nabokov&rsquo;s prose because it&rsquo;s so good. And Brian Cox is a solid actor. That doesn&rsquo;t mean I&rsquo;d choose him to (haltingly) read me a story in his pyjamas. I&rsquo;d rather sit at home with a copy of the book and absorb its brilliance in the comfort of my own sitting room, any day.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <strong>ZS</strong><strong></strong>