This is one of my favourite plays by William Shakespeare so when I saw this film version listed in my television schedule I set it to record so that I could enjoy watching it at a time when I knew I would not be disturbed.
Directed by Julie Taymor from her own screenplay adaptation it was presented as a ‘reimagining’ of Shakespeare’s classic. I hate that word ‘reimagining’! In many instances I have found it to just mean plagiarism at the worst or a distinct lack of originality by the writer at the least. To be fair this might not be Julie Taymor’s fault as the only real alteration to the original is in changing the lead character’s sex to female. Again, I am in ignorance as to why this was felt necessary other than to presume that Julie Taymor wanted to work with Hellen Mirren on the project and that this was the only way to accommodate her?
I do not have any problem with changing the Duke Prospero into the Duchess Prospera but I have to wonder why not go all the way? It would be easier to suspend disbelief if Julie Taymor had set her tale in another time perhaps but this is not the case. The characters all appear in reasonably faithful late medieval dress, complete with doublets and ruffs, carrying rapiers and such. I found this observance with accuracy on one point at loggerheads with the notion of a female duke at a time when women rarely had the opportunity to aspire to such a high and powerful status as a duke in their own right. It somewhat renders Prospera’s complaints of being robbed of her dukedom by her younger brother moot as according to the time in which the play is set inheritance passed down the male line anyway to this would have become the logical outcome of Prospera being female!
Personally I would have been a lot more accepting of Prospera if Julie Taymor had abandoned medieval Europe altogether and presented a much more fanciful set design in which to play out the story.
That said, Helen Mirren carried off her role with consummate professionalism. Her presence on screen gives the film its gravitas and she is commands attention in every scene. Unfortunately she is let down by the rest of the cast with only two notable exceptions. The first of these is Ben Wishaw as the sprite Ariel, He looks quite otherworldly but I was unconvinced that he had to appear naked in every scene. It is not that he isn’t good looking, it is the inevitable comic effect that arises from trying to cover up his genitals as a result. Otherwise he was quite convincing as the spirit, I particularly liked his appearance as a crow as this created a very striking image.
Djimon Hounsou also acquitted himself well as Caliban. I found him very interesting to watch as he communicated the foul and yet pitiable nature of the mooncalf through use of both his body and his voice. He raised the character from out of the purely comic to one more approaching tragedy.
These apart the rest of the cast failed to impress. I am not a fan of Russell Brand but I was willing to allow him an opportunity to impress me as the clown Trinculo but all I saw was Russell Brand being Russell Brand; same hair, same beard, same annoying accent. Reeve Carney as Prince Ferdinand simply lacked any conviction, even allowing for Miranda, played by Felicity Jones, having grown up without ever having seen a man previously Carney’s Ferdinand seemed too effeminate and understated as to defy belief that he could win the girl’s heart so easily.
In conclusion this was not as enjoyable a film as I was hoping for. It had its moments and I certainly would not think of it as a failure but there was also something missing, something that I could not ignore, the spark of magic and wonder that lives in Shakespeare’s text but was not translated to the screen in this instance.