The world’s most renowned bard is back once again on the silver screen, this time in Julie Taymor’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s, The Tempest. The story, in a nutshell, begins with a ship stuck in a violent storm at sea. The sea vessel carries on board a royal crew from Italy. Standing on the edge of the cliff, beckoning the storm to her will, is Prospero (Helen Mirren), a witch who has been deserted on the strange island. With the aid of the spirit Ariel (Ben Whishaw), who is under Prospero’s command, the ship is destroyed, it’s crew fated to be seperated and stranded on the strange island. Prospero’s daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones) appears to question and protest against her mother’s actions. It transpires that Prospero is in fact related to the crew on the ship, having been banished from Italy, for practising witch craft, and left to her fate.
Amongst the stranded crew is Prince Ferdinand (Reeve Carney), who immediately falls in love with Miranda; and she with him. On other parts of the island the characters of Alonso, the King of Naples (David Strathairn); Gonzalo, the King’s advisor (Tom Conti); Sebastian, Alonso’s brother (Alan Cummings); and Antonio, Prospero’s brother (Chris Columbus) arrive to make sense of where they are. To inject comedy into the film are the characters Trinculo (Russell Brand) and Stephano (Alfred Molina), who meet a strange local, a slave of Prospero’s named Caliban (Djimon Hounsou). The characters lives twist and turn to the whims of Prospero, aided by Ariel, as punishment for their past wickedness, before they inevitably encounter one another at the climax.
There have been many great translations of Shakespeare’s texts to screen, with notable mentions to Baz Luhmann’s Romeo & Juliet, Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet; Roman Polanski’s Macbeth (The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Orson Welles’ Othello, amongst many, many others. Unfortunately, Julie Taymor’s efforts with The Tempest cannot be held in such high esteem. Despite some wonderful performances from the cast, The Tempest fails to really ignite on-screen. Helen Mirren positively shines as the equally malevolent and benevolent Prospero. The decision to cast her in this previously male role is wonderful and works to fantastic effect. Felicity Jones charms as the lovely Miranda and her performance is magnificent to watch. To some level acknowledgement can be made to Alfred Molina and Russell Brand, who manage to entertain, in parts. And, Djimon Hounsou plays the role of Caliban well, portraying menacing, fragile and funny in equal measure; his make up is also fantastic.
However, those that don’t shine in the film must be noted also. Chris Cooper seems awkwardly out of place in his role, his speeches unintelligible at times and his role as villain questionable, aided by the directors inability to lend depth to his character. His partner in crime, Alan Cummings, is quite forgettable. Although not strong in performance, their acting also isn’t helped by Taymor’s overuse of bad CGI effects to exaggerate emotion in her scenes. It simply isn’t need and ultimately detracts from the language of the play, which is written to be visually descriptive enough. Taymor’s reliance on overblown visuals, plus lack of respect for the narrative is pretty evident. Rather than rely on the intelligence of the audience and their ability to appreciate the language of Shakespeare, Taymor seems hell bent on pushing our noses to the screen with unrelenting force, as if to say “look, this scene means this, or this scene alludes to that” whilse chaotic special effects spiral out of control in the background, or completely take over the scene. Much the same can be said of her last feature Across The Universe, which was also over the top (although you could argue the trippy imagery lends itself to the Beatles acid inspired days; but that’s for another time). Another notable let down for the film is the rather bland performance of Reeve Carney, whose rendition of Ferdinand is drippy at best. At one point he breaks into a horrible song: the very cringe worthy moment lasts far too long. The scenes that do work, and work well for that matter, is when Taymor lets her actors act, without the bells and whistle effects.
Although enjoyable in small parts, the lulling of the films pace and its failure to establish depth to the characters results in a wholly unsatisfying climax; apart maybe the relief of a very numb bum.