Director: Julie Taymor
Writer: Julie Taymor
Based on: William Shakespeare‘s play
Cast: Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones, David Strathairn, Alan Cumming, Chris Cooper, Ben Whishaw, Djimon Hounsou, Russell Brand, Alfred Molina, Reeve Carney, Tom 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.
But 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.