The Tempest (review)

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There’s a little bit of Hammer horror in Julie Taymor’s (Frida) messy but thrilling adaptation of Shakespeare’s last play, and there’s more than a little turning-of-the-tables, all of which brings a new perspective on the play, and a new appreciation for it, which is the best we can ask for the umpteenth adaptation of a centuries-old work. The exiled wizard and Duke of Milan Prospero gets a sex change: Helen Mirren’s (Brighton Rock) Prospera makes even more sense, her rage fueled by an extra level of injustice in the man’s world in which she dwells, where powerful women are not to be tolerated, and perhaps decried as witches. Taymor gives her a blasted island realm, reflecting her frustration, and dynamic new power struggles with her uncouth and near feral domestic slave Caliban (Djimon Hounsou: Push), as well as with her spirit slave Ariel (Ben Whishaw: Bright Star), a fairy part fey and part punk; Prospera’s — and Taymor’s — eye defines this land, where the men go nearly naked while the wizard and her beautiful young daughter, Miranda (Felicity Jones: Doctor Who) remain demurely covered up. Treachery and conspiracy arrives anew with Prospera’s villainous brother, Antonio (Chris Cooper: The Town), the current Duke, who has been shipwrecked via her magic, along with his viper of a cohort Sebastian (Alan Cumming: Burlesque), and others, including the clowns Trinculo and Stephano. Russell Brand (Despicable Me) and Alfred Molina (Rango) are themselves amusing as the comic relief, but Taymor doesn’t seem to know quite how to fit them in, and it’s in the latter half that control seems to get away from her. Still, it remains, even at this point, a lovely, mysterious film, and a gorgeously cinematic mounting of the Bard the likes of which you’d never, ever see onstage.

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