“The Picture of Dorian Gray” is getting a gender-swapped film adaptation

oscar wilde
oscar wilde
Image: Public domain/Wikimedia
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

For the umpteenth time, Oscar Wilde’s only novel is getting a film adaption—but this one promises to be perhaps the most unique spin on the story since it was first published 127 years ago.

Annie Clark, the Grammy-winning musician best known as St. Vincent, will direct a film based on The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde’s 1890 novel about a young man whose portrait ages while he remains eternally young, living a life of hedonism. In Clark’s film, the title character will instead be a woman, Variety reported.

The film will be Clark’s feature film debut. She previously directed one of the installments in XX, a horror anthology film directed by all women, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year. As a musician, Clark has won many accolades, including the Grammy for best alternative album in 2015.

A Faustian philosophical horror about the value of beauty, The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of the most widely read (and studied) works of 19th century literature. At the time of its publication, though, the novel was met with contempt from a Victorian society offended by the novel’s perceived amorality—in particular, its homoerotic subtext. Wilde, who’d later be convicted and imprisoned for “gross indecency” with men, was forced to expunge some of the novel’s references to homosexuality when it was republished in 1891.

The character of Dorian Gray has been female once before, in the 1983 made-for-TV movie The Sins of Dorian Gray. But that film eliminated the character of Basil Hallward (the artist who’s infatuated with Gray and paints his portrait), and with him, much of the story’s queer subtext. In order for Clark’s film to retain that element of Wilde’s novel, Hallward would likely have to be a woman too.

The novel—the only one Wilde ever wrote before his death in in 1900, was first made into a silent film in 1910. Since then, it’s been adapted dozens of times and has inspired countless films, songs, books, and plays. Dorian Gray is a major character in the Showtime horror series Penny Dreadful, which uses several characters from 19th century British and Irish literature. Gray was also featured in the 2003 film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, based on the comics of the same name.

David Birke, who wrote the Oscar-nominated French thriller Elle, will write Clark’s adaptation. Lionsgate is developing the project, which does not yet have a release date.