May 6, 2011 Leave a comment
I’m not normally one to review films – my knowledge of the history of cinema is somewhat lacking and I don’t go to watch films nearly often enough. In the case of Julie Taymor’s film of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, however, I feel my understanding of the play and its history warrants a review of some sort. This is exactly how Shakespeare shouldn’t be done.
I don’t want to get all conservative and old-fashioned about this, but there are some things which should always be considered when producing a Shakespeare play, in any format. All we have is the word on the page, and if no attention is paid to Shakespeare’s language, your enterprise will fall at the first hurdle. Taymor, it seems, has not even read the script. She also has no idea how to get the best from actors when verse-speaking.
Any inspired choices have clearly come from the actors themselves. Alfred Molina is a sharp Stephano and Felicity Jones offers a sassy interpretation of Miranda. There are also good turns from Alan Cumming as Sebastian and Djimon Hounsou’s ferocious Caliban, but the rest of the cast struggle to discover any meaning in the text. Russell Brand as Trinculo is too self-aware and tries to hard, while Reeve Carney’s Ferdinand is nothing short of wooden. Ben Whishaw does a good job as Ariel, even though he is confined to looking dazed and floating over desert sands. Taking on the role of the female Prospera, Helen Mirren also disappoints. She speaks in strained tones, and the mother-daughter relationship is not different enough from the father-daughter one present in the original to justify the change in gender.
Taymor’s visual aesthetic has clearly been chosen to create a hyper-real universe, but at times the choice to make clear the fantastical elements of the play makes it look like the actors are just standing on green screens. This island is incongruous, looking at times like a lava plan and others a Burton-esque Wonderland. The costumes, created mainly from zips, are also bizarre; Taymor never sees a cohesive whole for her film.
It’s also hard to believe any of the relationships in the film. Jones’ Miranda is far too intelligent to fall for a dunce like Ferdinand, and the four noblemen are so flat that we can’t help but feel disinterested throughout. The sexual tension between Prospera and Ariel is an interesting touch, but on the whole the characters are so underdeveloped that when they interact with others there’s no motives to build upon.
This is one of the worst adaptations of The Tempest I’ve come across. Taymor pays no attention to the text, and although her intentions are clear they are not justified. Shakespeare on-screen is even more tough than Shakespeare on stage, but the fact is this production wouldn’t even work in a theatre. If you want a masterclass in how not to perform the Bard, this is a must-see.