The Tempest (2010)

The Tempest
Director: Julie Taymor
Writer: Julie Taymor
Based on: William Shakespeare‘s play
Cast: Helen MirrenFelicity JonesDavid StrathairnAlan CummingChris CooperBen WhishawDjimon HounsouRussell BrandAlfred MolinaReeve CarneyTom Conti
Seen on: 16.3.2016

Many years ago Prospera (Helen Mirren) was betrayed by her brother Antonio (Chris Cooper). He sent her and her daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones) off on a ship so that they may die, but they managed to survive and have been stranded on an island ever since. They are almost the only inhabitants of the island, apart from Caliban (Djimon Hounsou), the spiteful son of the former island ruler, and the sprite Ariel (Ben Whishaw) who both have been enslaved by Prospera’s magic. Their existence is severely disrupted though when a ship sinks just off the island – a ship carrying not only Alonso the King of Naples (David Strathairn), his brother Sebastian (Alan Cumming) and his son Ferdinand (Reeve Carney), but also Antonio. Prospera knows that her time has come at last.

The Tempest is a visually impressive film with a great cast, but it never quite takes off – there are simply too many things that don’t work.


Julie Taymor is one of the strongest visualists currently working in cinema and it’s obvious in The Tempest as well. There are stunning costumes, stunning scenery, stunning camera work, even if they sometimes go a little overboard, I always liked watching the film.

It was actually the first time that I saw the Tempest but I have a hard time imagining it with a male Prospero. Not only because Helen Mirren nails the role (not surprisingly), but because that particular gender switch opens up so many layers of meaningful discussion around gender that it seems a waste to lose all of that with a male Prospero.

thetempest1But some things don’t work out quite as well. Worst offender, for me, was Caliban. The fact that his monstrosity was shown by having him be literally half white, half black is already more than eyebrow-raising. But there was also the fact that Djimon Hounsou is the only black person in the cast and Caliban is shown to be pretty stupid (in a malicious way) and lusts after Miranda, very much recalling racist stereotypes about black men (or, in this case, biracial) which are reinforced by the fact that he is the only “original inhabitant” of the island taken over by Prospera and that he is wearing a loincloth and nothing more. In short, Caliban in this iteration is the epitome of a racist clusterfuck.

The film also had distinct lengths and at the same time seems to have been a little too liberal with cutting Shakespeare down (at least there were some glaring holes in characterization and plot that I assume aren’t there in the play, but it could be that they were taken over from the original). So why I enjoyed a whole lot about the film, altogether it did remain a rather lukewarm affair for me.

thetempest2Summarizing: It’s okay, albeit racist.

5 thoughts on “The Tempest (2010)

  1. I was very disappointed when watching it. Even though I hadn’t watched it in years I am a huge fan of her adaptation of Titus Andronicus and couldn’t wait to see The Tempest. Unfortunately, apart from Helen Mirren (stunning as usual) and occasionally Russel Brand I found it not only just boring, but simply put also absolutely dull. I watched it when it was released on DVD, so it’s been a while, I admit I can’t remember much, only that I saw the DVD by accident when out and about with my dad on the countryside and being overyl excited. I still have a guilty concscience that I talked him into watching it with me (in English even, with German subtitles).

    • I haven’t seen her Titus Adronicus, but I should probably check it out. :) Agreed about Helen Mirren. Russell Brand is often better than he gets credit for (or better than most of the roles he gets). The cast was mostly fantastic. But yeah, I get your guilty conscience…

      • I admit to absolutely loving and adoring Mr. Brand, so yes he is much better than he often seems to be/the roles he gets, agreed. I would offer to lend you the DVD but a colleague still has it. It’s one of my absolute favorites of all time. Sounds like I also need a rewatch, well either with the DVD or any other option (must check Netflix/A.Prime), so if we manage to find time, I’m happy to host :)

  2. Pingback: The Tempest | kalafudra's Stuff

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