By Bill Walthall

Friday Film Focus: The Tempest, 2010 film, directed by Julie Taymor shakespeare news The Shakespeare Standard shakespeare plays list play shakespeare

OK, it’s Friday, and this is the day of the week that Hollywood loves to open a new flick, but I have something else in mind: one of the many productions of The Tempest that are available on video. This week, I’m taking a look at the first of our videos that is a purely cinematic version–shot on location, as opposed to on a soundstage or stage set: the 2010 cinematic theatrical release, directed by Julie Taymor and starring Helen Mirren as Prospera.

This cinematic aspect is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it does afford Taymor to bring in some pretty impressive talent. Beyond the aforementioned Mirren, we get Ben Whishaw as Ariel, Djimon Hounsou as Caliban, Felicity Jones as Miranda, David Strathairn as Alonso, Chris Cooper as Antonio, Alan Cumming as Sebastian, Alfred Molina as Stephano, and Russell Brand as Trinculo. And all of these acquit themselves admirably. On the flip side, it also allows for the filmmakers to really push the magic elements of the play via computer generated imagery. And some of it’s pretty cool–I especially liked the opening image of a island-like sand castle melting in the hand of Miranda as the film’s titular storm rains down. But I do have in my notes–around the time of the masques in the play’s latter half–“CG goes apesh!t”… and I’m not kidding. It’s just unnecessary. I mean, I get the desire to do some visual magic, but at some point you have to ask yourself: “does the play need this? does the text support this?” And if the answer is no, and you still do it…well, it begins to feel masturbatory.

Anyway…let’s focus on the positives.

The idea of Prospero as woman, I think, is brilliant. The change of gender has repercussions throughout the interactions, both with Miranda, and the two other inhabitants of the island, Ariel and Caliban. It does force some changes in pronoun, of course, and I think Taymor misses an opportunity: she makes Prospera Duchess of Milan through her marriage. While I get why, it feels like some of her agency, some of her power is diminished.

Her delivery of “the speech” is fascinating, a kind of valedictory to herself, and as the story progresses, she seems more and more fatigued…almost to the point that when the end comes she’s ready to release Caliban, drown her books and toss her staff to the bottom of the sea.

Maybe this is why Prospera does not deliver the Epilogue; instead it appears as a song over the final credits…which did not work for me…as did (not, I guess) the portrayal of Ariel, and the absolutely yawn-inducing relationship between Miranda and Ferdinand)

Molina and Brand are excellent as the drunken buffoons. There is a certain normal cadence to Brand’s delivery that is both naturalistic and completely understandable. And the villainous interplay between Cooper and Cumming is both comic and cruel.

So, for me, this is a definite watch. It’s not as good as the Stratford one with Christopher Plummer, but one that I think is worth the time…

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