Tempest Review

Film Still
  • Tempest film still


This lightly experimental docu-drama attempts to place Shakespeare's swansong into a new context, with mixed results.

Shakespeare’s supernatural spectacular, 'The Tempest', is most certainly of-the-moment. Its metaphors ran deep during London 2012, playing a central part in all four Olympic ceremonies with power-thesp Kenneth Branagh's emotive address implemented as the climactic highlight of Danny Boyle’s celebration of all things British.

Rob Curry and Anthony Fletcher's Tempest presents another attempt to update Shakespeare's oft-adapted classic in this relevant but overly-quirky and lightly experimental docu-drama. Co-directed by theatrical partners Curry (Way of the Morris) and Fletcher, this modern retelling follows a group of London teenagers from rehearsal through to production of this epochal work.

Shakespeare's moral questioning of European colonialists' pillaging the New World adds thematic heft to the film’s intended exploration of environment, identity and circumstance. Prospero’s magical 'Isle of Wonder' acts as a continuous, at times tenuous, analogy for the concrete jungle of South London.

Presented initially as a chaotic, violent and brutal cityscape, the film finds an unlikely natural serenity in Lambeth's Kennignton Park. It is here that the community’s young inhabitants attempt to marry the complexities of Shakespeare's enigmatic theatrical farewell with their own urban identities in a series of improvised monologues and performance pieces.

The film relies heavily on its audience's working knowledge of 'The Tempest', expecting them to puzzle together the metaphorical links between fiction and reality while offering them little in the way of contextual enlightenment.

Tempest defines itself as a euphoric and uplifting 'celebration of contemporary urban youth culture' and, to a certain extent, does what it says on the tin in its optimistic portrayal of an eagerly ambitious, intelligent and often talented multicultural cast, led by charismatic loner Zephryn (Prospero).

The film also aims to challenge the moral panic surrounding inner city youth criminality and disenchantment by focusing on how the lives of this young theatrical assembly are transformed by their involvement with the expressive arts. It is frustrating, then, that the teens themselves confusingly stay in character for the most part, with little screen time devoted to their more interesting, real-life stories and struggles.

In its desire to appeal to a younger, edgier crowd, the film becomes swamped with a myriad of excessively trendy techniques, from its incessant, imposing urban score and dizzying visuals to its rejection of a cohesive narrative structure. The rehearsal sequences plays out like an overlong, humourless blooper reel, intercut with a series of uninspiring, generic shots of rush hour London.

When the play eventually reaches production stage – the film's supposed cumulative highlight – we've already seen enough. The most interesting moments come in the form of three stop motion animation sequences by Jessica Ashman. These illuminating moments act as illustrative signposts to aid the viewer’s navigation of an otherwise illogical narrative.

This over-imagining is certainly brave and provocative in its attempt to impress, but its efforts are lost in translation, and lack the innovation required to breathe any new life into this complex old beast.

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