John Gielgud wrote that he was originally offered the role of Wilde, having had major successes directing Wilde's plays "Lady Windemere's Fan" and "The Importance of Being Earnest" (the latter also being one of Gielgud's most famous non-Shakespearean acting roles). He turned the film down, writing "no one could look less like Wilde than I do, not even Peter Finch."

The producers, Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli took a chance and financed the film themselves. The film dealt with Oscar Wilde's homosexuality, so very few theaters would play the film. It almost put the Producers to bankruptcy, and broke up the partnership between them. But in Europe it was a great artistic success and won several foreign awards.