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The Tempest - DVD Review

The Tempest

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

JULIE Taymor’s latest Shakespeare adaptation The Tempest is a curious affair that – somewhat amazingly – emerges as a stylistic mess that’s also lacking in substance.

Shot on location in Hawaii and featuring some brave casting choices, it’s visually striking but creatively inept in the way that it squanders most of its potential to make a name for itself.

Helen Mirren, for instance, inhabits the role of Prospera (originally written as Prospero) but is given too little room to explore the change in sexual dynamic, while Chris Cooper’s Antonio, her ambitious and ruthless brother, also feels bereft of quality screen-time and therefore lacks much impact as the villain of the piece.

Instead, Taymor spends too much time in the company of the likes of Ben Whishaw’s wind sprite Ariel (one of two island slaves) and the supposedly ‘comedic’ trio of Caliban (Djimon Hounsou), Trinculo (a badly cast Russell Brand) and Stephano (Alfred Molina) – who, in this adaptation at least, offer far less intriguing possibilities.

The central themes and machinations of The Tempest do, however, remain the same, kicking off with a storm created by Prospera that shipwrecks the men responsible for sending her into exile 12 years earlier onto her enchanted island so that she can gain some form of revenge.

Hence, Cooper’s Antonio is left to plot more misdeeds with co-conspirator Sebastian (Alan Cumming) while the noble but crest-fallen Alonso, the King of Naples (David Strathairn), and his old friend, Gonzalo (Tom Conti), search for the King’s son.

That son, Ferdinand (Reeve Carney), has been deliberately separated and stranded alone so that he may fall for the charms of Prospera’s own daughter, Miranda (Felicity Jones).

Hence, with the help of Ariel, who has been promised freedom, Prospera plots romance and revenge so that she can reveal herself to one and all come the end of the production.

Given how involving Shakespeare’s source material is, Taymor’s failure to make it thus has to rate as a particularly damning criticism. More so, if you factor in the waste of such a great cast.

But so many of the film’s failings can be said to lie with her, from the shoddy use of special effects that draw you out of the movie, to the costume designs, which are also distracting – indeed, such is the lack of emotional investment that you find yourself noticing other things such as the number of zips attached to each outfit, which therefore seem to modern.

At almost two hours, the film also rambles when it should fly… becoming bogged down in proceedings rather than enlivened by them. It’s a criticism underlined by at least two of the poor casting choices: with Carney emerging as a particularly lightweight love interest for the far better Jones, and Brand doing Brand in the middle of the Bard.

Such flights of fancy on Taymor’s behalf also distract you from the emotional weight of the story and compromise its ability to grip. And that’s a criticism that should never normally be levelled at one of Shakespeare’s works.

That Helen Mirren emerges with her credibility intact is testament to her own skills as an actress (and Shakespeare veteran), for she still manages to make Prospera the most interesting character, whose gender switch seems seamless and almost natural. If only she’d been given more time to really revel in the possibilities that presents…

Certificate: PG
Running time: 110mins
UK DVD Release: December 26, 2012