Director Julie Taymor, who gave us Frida and
Across the Universe, adapted William Shakespeare's last play and
shot it all over Hawaii. Perhaps her most controversial 'interpretation'
was to change the male lead into a female: Prospera (Helen Mirren), the
former Duchess of Milan. She had had her throne usurped and was exiled
on a barren, magical island with her three year old daughter, Miranda
Here, using her vast learning and wondrous books, she in
turn usurped the resident witch, Sycorax, and enslaved her son Caliban (Djimon
Hounsou is great as the half-man, half-monster) and the resident spirit
Ariel (the vaguely and deliciously androgynous Ben Whishaw is aptly
ethereal). The play, and so the film, is a grand revenge drama against
the man who sent Prospera into stormy exile, twelve years on. One
infamous stand-out performance is omnipresent comedian Russell Brand's
(whose appeal remains inexplicable to me). He delivers his Trinculo
lines with apparent abandon and Cockney discard.
Beside revenge, there is a tender, young-royal love story
plus a haunting ghostliness in The Tempest. Taymor manages to
make great use of the Hawaiian locale. The actors all stand up to the
demands, especially Mirren, Whishaw (who create a lovely,
unpronounceable tension) and Hounsou. Visually, the film is very
engaging. The action moves quickly and the nearly two hours is smashed
apart just like the ship at the beginning of the story.
I found myself watching with subtitles on, which enriched
the experience: it made the words 'come to life'. I think some liberties
were taken with the swearing but I am not one to make a fuss about that!
The disc has Dolby 5.1 sound, as well as stereo. There
are many bonus features, not least of which are two full-length
commentaries: one from the director, the other from two Shakespeare
experts. There is also a generous making-of featurette, a 'Russell Brand
Rehearsal Riff' (again, baffling) and even an 'O Mistress Mine' music
This disc will prove invaluable to all those students out
there tackling this play. But it is also a gripping story executed with
skill. It is thoroughly enjoyable, especially (in my opinion), with