Paris, 1900. One of Dorian Gray's oldest friends is on his deathbed, locked away in a room at the notorious Hotel D'Alsace, where he is fighting a duel to the death. And when Dorian comes to visit him one last time, both men realise they may never be allowed to check out...
Alexander Vlahos (Dorian Gray), Steffan Rhodri (Oscar Wilde), Marilyn Le Conte (Genevieve Moreau), David Blackwell (Robert Ross), Sophie Melville (Isabelle)
I *loved* this.
This concept could easily have gone pulpy and daft. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen springs to mind. That might well have been a good fun series in itself. But instead Llewellyn and Handcock have produced something with a genuine feel for and understanding of the source material, which is nonetheless fresh and original. There's a perfect mix of the faithful and the innovative. Confessions evokes the lyrical dialogue and the wry-macabre outlook of Wilde's writing, but furthers it and finds something new. The key tool in that is taking a modern outlook on the story, from which standpoint the tales can be seen in retrospective. A perfect marriage of the innovative and the nostalgic.
Also highly significant, Confessions has proper depth. It really seeks to carry on the thematic and thoughtful quality of Dorian's story, not just play him for the easy fantastical kicks. There's a really coherent vision here that has every element of the series feeding back into the others to produce something exceptionally well layered for something so concise and minimal. This World Our Hell is exceptionally, and fittingly, elegant.
The best example of that focus I can give is the whole first 'act' of the story, in which Dorian reunites with his old friend Oscar in a Parisian hotel bedroom. The pair share a long conversation about their current circumstances, and this leads them onto the topic of regret. Not their specific regrets, but the topic of regret itself. The scene lasts for about ten minutes, in which it gets us up to speed on all the expository business required for the series. It's well written dialogue, for sure, and if it were nothing more than a protracted set-up for the series to come, it would still be more deftly written exposition than one ever usually encounters. This scene terminates with the plot seeming to get underway... But as the mysterious of the story unravel, one can't help being reminded again and again of the things the pair discussed earlier in the play, seeing how they gain relevance to the characters' backstories and the themes of the tale. The tapestry of the story has been woven through every line, with a great command of subtlety, and an exchange that might have seemed only to be expository compounds the story's ideas every time we are reminded of it. This even enriches the atmosphere of the tale, as the sense of foreshadowing enhances the gothic and macabre feel of the piece.
I could pick apart how tightly interwoven all the aspects of that opening are for hours, but I fear I'm rambling already, so I'll try to be half so succinct as the play itself. Oscar's presence is the perfect opening concept - It immediately drives home the series' hook, that Gray existed; it gives a meaningful catalyst to bring Dorian into the story, and Oscar's ailment illuminates Dorian's nature by contrast. Dorian's backstory is largely held back - I'm on tenterhooks to learn more about the 'real' Dorian's past and motivations as the series goes on! When it is touched upon it's in small, meaningful moments which arise organically from the episodic and thematic aspects of the plot, tethering the ongoing concepts to the individual episode, and making each half matter more.
On the subject of the individual episode's plot, beyond what I've already said about its use of Wilde as a character, I am very impressed at the potent atmosphere. Listening in a brightly lit room with Facebook open on the screen in front of me, I was still chilled and unnerved by the tale's creepy moments. For a fleeting instant I found myself revisiting personal nightmares in my mind evoked by Dorian's own encounters. Commendably visceral! On a less emotive note, I found the specific mythology of the story to be compelling and intriguing. Both the sources it drew on and the way it presented them felt not quite like any other series I've seen. Confessions looks set to possess a strong signature atmosphere.
As regards Dorian himself, early indications are they've nailed the job. Of course we've only seen a glimpse of who Dorian is in this first outing, and a lot will ride on how he unfolds throughout the series, but it must be a good sign that I am already highly engaged in seeing that development. When your character's name is written in enormous block capitals in the series' logo, you know they're pretty important to get right. Llewellyn and Handcock seem to be on the ball. Dorian's manner and dialogue avoid clichés and tropes of pulp fantasy that might have been tempting, favouring an understated and thoughtful personality. It seems Dorian is a fascinating and complex blend of deeply human and darkly diabolic - exactly as he should be! Alexander Vlahos seems a splendid choice to bring all this to life. He captures all those elements that exist within the writing, and he furnishes them with turns of tone and subtle spot-colourings of emotion which go a long way to suggesting a depth of qualities lurking under his surface. Moments of passion and slight wry humour break the surface and prevent him ever seeming to cold or too dry.
It is a wonderful series, which I was always going to jump on given my fondness for the source material, but which I never expected would deliver so much on my hopes for what a really intelligent undertaking of the character could be. And I have to say, I also really favour the restrained aesthetic of the presentation. It seems like a lot of people are taking issue with the lack of a distinct themetune or other standard delineations of episode structure. On the contrary, I'm hugely in favour of the decision to dispense with them. The given reasoning is that tethering the series to a single stylistic element like a distinct themetune is at odds with the eclectic nature of the series' ongoing tales. That makes a lot of sense to me. On top of that, I think the immediacy that this presentation affords it, coupled with the strong narrative-retrospective aspect (which is itself a more subtle sort of delineating convention), lends it the feel of discovered chapters of a greater body of work. There's a distinctly book-ish feel to it, and, given the way the series intends to weave in and out of Dorian's timeline it takes on a wonderful 'apocryphal', gnostic-mystical feeling. In a way it is like we've picked up a lost chapter from a greater story already begun - And isn't that true? Chapter One must be the Picture of Dorian Gray itself.
This was really excellent. Were I to describe to you exactly what I wanted of the series, it would have been this. A very worthy 9/10 and I would not be surprised if this series were to snatch a full 10 out of me somewhere along the line.