Prisoner C33, with Toby Stephens as Oscar Wilde and directed by Trevor Nunn, aired 1 May on BBC Four at 21:00.
In 1895, in cell 3, floor 3, in Reading Gaol, we find Prisoner C33. Starved, thin, and with his hair crudely hacked short, he is confined alone in this dark cell, denied water to wash himself with and refused access to a toilet.
Prisoner C33 – real name Oscar Wilde – is a dramatist of genius, poet, wit, novelist, husband, father of two children and, until recently, the darling of London society. He has been imprisoned for the crime of having participated in a homosexual relationship. He is struggling to reconcile his identity as a creative genius with the trauma of his treatment as a despised criminal.
In despair, and fearing the onset of insanity, he fantasises about being in conversation with his former self – the elegant, debonair, famous, popular, long-haired, flamboyant Oscar Wilde before this nightmare began. Their talk, Oscar with Oscar, is full of Wildean wit, mischievous humour, nostalgia, philosophical insight, and sardonic wisdom. But as he contemplates his fall from grace, he agonises over the loss of his wife and sons, and over the conflict between love and hate, aroused in him by the memory of his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas.
Prisoner C33 vividly reminds us that only a century ago, a great artist, a genius of the theatre, was imprisoned and then exiled for being gay, in unutterably humiliating national condemnation.
Directed by multi-award winner Trevor Nunn and written by Stuart Paterson.
The programme is now on BBC iPlayer at https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m001708y/prisoner-c33.