This film is part of Free

Ballad of Reading Gaol

Poetic reflection on Oscar Wilde’s testimony at his 1895 trial for gross indecency

Documentary 1988 11 mins


Despite the title, Richard Kwietniowski’s Ballad of Reading Gaol focuses not on Oscar Wilde's famous poem (written in exile in 1897), but on quotations from his 1895 trial for gross indecency. Ambitious and playful, the film hurls fragments of testimony at the viewer, emblazoned upon provocative backdrops, from tattoos and sweaty vests to studded jockstraps.

The film visits the London haunts where Wilde's 'crimes' took place and the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where the playwright is buried. At the close, Quentin Crisp enunciates Wilde’s famous “love that dare not speak its name” speech. While Wilde’s definition of homosexuality as the love between an older and a younger man is archaic, Kwietniowski cleverly draws parallels with contemporary homophobia, including a reference to Section 28.