Director: Julie Taymor
Cast: Helen Mirren, Ben Whishaw, Felicity Jones, Alan Cumming, Chris Cooper, Russell Brand, Alfred Molina
Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. Or, in Julie Taymor's case, misery acquaints a woman with Russell Brand. With the latter's involvement, it's almost easy to overlook the fact that Taymor's flipped the genders about from Shakespeare's The Tempest, turning Prospero into Prospera. It makes some difference to the play, but the main 'P' on show here is Photoshop.
A vengeful wizard turned menacing matriarch, Prospera (Mirren) exacts her evil plans upon her enemies by shipwrecking them against her island. Keeping a careful eye on her young ward, Miranda (Jones), she torments her victims with visions, delusions and all manner of vile trickery. She's helped by enslaved spirit Ariel (Whishaw) - and a whole lot of CGI.
Lavishing visual effects upon every frame, Taymor's Tempest is intensely stylised. The stunning flourishes overwhelm at times but they all involve a naked Ben Whishaw prancing around the screen, so it's hard to complain.
Cutting lines and adding in her own blank verse, Taymor makes sure she mixes up the mystical with the profane by casting Russell Brand and Alfred Molina in her comic subplot. Unsubtle and loud, they're actually a good fit for the parts of Trinculo and Stephano, reveling in the chance to have a laugh with Bill the Bard's bawdy bits. But Felicity Jones is easier on the ear, the young actress handling her pentameter with more skill than Brand's brash delivery.
Mirren, meanwhile, is an intimidating presence, easily filling the male shoes she's been given. And Djimon Hounsou's gravelly-voiced native Caliban spits out his speech well, strong and defiant in the face of Mirren's oppressor. It's a shame, then, that the play's deeper colonial themes are somewhat lost in the Photoshop frenzy - as are Alan Cumming, Chris Cooper and David Straithairn, who can never quite compete with the fireworks on display.
There are subtleties to Shakespeare's play, but they need exploring. Beyond casting Helen Mirren, Taymor sticks mostly to the surface. Instead, she focuses on illustrating language that's already filled with imagery. She fashions a brave new world, but the people in it are left to their own devices. Thank goodness they can act against green screens, adding intrigue to a storm-tossed production: The Tempest is less an insight into the text and more a look at what could have been.
Like someone scribbled all over the play with really shiny crayons. A noisy affair, but still pretty enough to engage.
- alan cumming
- alfred molina
- ben whishaw
- chris cooper
- felicity jones
- helen mirren
- julie taymor
- russell brand
- the tempest