There is no sin except stupidity

'A Man of No Importance' has Albert Finney playing a shy bus driver who idolises Oscar Wilde. Come again? Adam Mars-Jones on a film that walks on the simple-minded side

A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE Suri Krishnamma (15)

Faced with a film as quietly bad as A Man of No Importance, as lazy in its pathos (even the title is sentimental), it's hard to know whether to crush it with rock or to run circles round it sniggering. This review will seek to combine these critical approaches.

The film, written by Barry Devlin, directed by Suri Krishnamma, tells the story of a Dublin bus conductor in 1963 who idolises Oscar Wilde, reading extracts from Wilde's work to enthralled passengers on his route, and recruiting them to act in his rudimentary production of Salome. Alfie Byrne (Albert Finney) refers to the young driver of his bus (Rufus Sewell) as "Bosie", and keeps a framed photograph of him on the mantlepiece next to his Oscar Wilde regalia. Alfie is a virgin, but is it possible that his feelings for his Bosie run deeper than he supposes? Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen.

Albert Finney has passed through a number of phases in his cinematic career. He has been strapping lad with cheeky grin (Tom Jones), burly man with scowl (roughly Wolfen to Miller's Crossing) and is currently exploring the possibilities of pouchy veteran with wan smile, in The Browning Version and now A Man of No Importance. This new interest in worms that turn was better rewarded in the early film, where the "Crock" at least denounced his own spiritual failure in front of the assembled school. When the worm turns in A Man of No Importance, it is a very little turn, and the worm remains well beneath the surface of the earth. Alfie's grand act of defiance is to put on his Wilde costume, parade down to the local louche bar, and whisper to a blond thug that he would like a cuddle. This in the Dublin demi-monde of the period was a code-phrase meaning "please beat me up and rob me". The lad and his pals do the honours.

The film-makers seem to imagine that they are giving us "a modern version" of Oscar Wilde in this tale of a bus driver's sexual awakening - though given that Alfie is still doomed to virginity at the end of the film, perhaps we should describe it as turning over in his sleep. It's as if they have misread Wilde's admission that the danger of his chosen life was part of its attraction, that he was feasting with panthers. That's panthers, okay? Not the sweet little rodents that nibble at sunflower seeds and spend hours at a time running on their exercise wheels.

If you think you can tell Oscar Wilde's story while leaving out such things as his intellect, creativity, exhibitionism and sexuality (Wilde had a married sex life, with two sons to show for it, as well as an appetite for telegraph boys), why stop there? Why not tell Oscar Wilde's story through the experiences of a tabby cat or a sewing machine? When Alfie has been appropriately cuddled by the gang from the bar, and is lying on his back in the street, the camera shows us the night sky from his point of view, and the soundtrack treats us to a saccharine tinkle. This presumably is the film-makers' modern version of Wilde's mot that we are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Except that that was an epigram and this is a Disney moment.

If A Man of No Importance is not in any meaningful way about Oscar Wilde, nor is it in any meaningful way about a Dublin homosexual in 1963. It would be difficult to recreate Wilde's sexual milieu at this chronological remove, but if the film makers had wanted to research Dublin's gay scene in 1963 they could have done so. Being driven underground is not the same thing as ceasing to exist.

All the same, running the gauntlet of blackmail and imprisonment is likely to be bad for people's moral health and a realistic picture of Dublin gay life at the time would be a lot less sweet than A Man of No Importance. But then the film-makers are not interested in social history. All they have done is come up with a feeble but unthreatening image of homosexuality - as a dim, secret sadness - and then installed it in a decade where they think it looks plausible.

At one stage in the film, we glimpse the crowd in the louche bar, and they are as unlike gay men in 1963 as it is possible to be. Half of them look like extras from Querelle; there's even a 1990s goatee. In general, the film's sense of social period is on a par with its feeling for costume history (there were no PVC biker jackets in Dublin in 1963). The only contemporary event that people refer to is the Profumo scandal - and then they are under the impression (or is it the screenwriter?) that Stephen Ward's crime was homosexuality rather than living off immoral earnings.

Barry Devlin, the screenwriter, can produce some nifty dialogue of an Alan Bennett-plus-blarney type so long as he steers clear of such tricky subjects as Oscar Wilde and homosexuality. A Dublin woman attributes the lax morals of country girls to the quantity of loose straw lying about in those parts. A butcher, having been asked to provide meat for a fondue, asks his tenant what that might be. On being told that a fondue is a kind of dog, he decides that scraps and gristle would be perfect. Unfortunately, Devlin's chosen subjects are ... Oscar Wilde and homosexuality, and with these he is all at sea.

One of Devlin's ambitions was to give Wilde's story a happy ending. Certainly public disgrace, two years' hard labour, exile and premature death do not make up a merry destiny. But "happy ending" doesn't seem to describe Alfie's sentimental acceptance by his passengers and even his Bosie. All they are doing is endorsing his right to be unfulfilled.

The film-makers may be trying to be sympathetic about love's outsiders, but all they demonstrate is that sympathy minus knowledge equals patronage. They have come up with an image of homosexuality so comically unself-aware that the dumbest hick in the darkened cinema will be able to shout out, long before the hero gets wise to himself, "My dear sir, you are manifestly an Uranian. My advice would be to move to California immediately."

n All films reviewed open tomorrow

Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In my grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel