The Tempest further echoes Julie Taymor's preoccupations with the alchemy of cinema and the art of illusion.
It is evident from the opening scenes of The Tempest what an incredible visual imagination Julie Taymor possesses. In her second stab at translating the Bard’s work to the big screen, the director radicalises the lead role by switching its gender from male to female.
Helen Mirren headlines as the re-imagined Prospera, usurped Duchess of Milan and keen sorceress, bewitching and plotting against the men who cast her and daughter, Miranda, into exile. This shrewd piece of casting gives the machinations of the plot a matriarchal spin, enriching the narrative.
Alongside Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography, Sandy Powell’s Oscar-nominated costume designs and Elliot Goldenthal’s pounding score, Taymor demonstrates with aplomb she might not 'do' subtle, but she sure can do exquisite. Such is the nature of the mise-en-scène, however, it sometimes feels over-cooked, as if Taymor were striving for the cinematic equivalent of Stendhal Syndrome.
Of the supporting cast only poor Chris Cooper feels lost. He clearly has trouble grappling with the poetic dialogue, which is odd for such a fine dramatic actor. Another highly noticeable cast member is Russell Brand as Trinculo. Those with a natural aversion to the man will instantly dismiss him, but that's perhaps unfair given that he's actually rather well-suited to the role.
Brand plays his character with an inescapable Cockney accent making a welcome change from the norm, and his general buffoonery and liveliness helps inject some much-needed energy. Far from embarrassing himself, Brand is one of the best things in The Tempest and fits neatly into Taymor’s idiosyncratic vision.
As with all of this director’s work there will be those who engage with it and those sharpening their critical knives. Perhaps it is the iconoclast in Taymor that annoys some critics, or the fact that her restless experimentations merge overt theatricality with cinema aesthetics – the clash between the real and the unreal occurs in the heavy use of CG effects against the bleak and desolate Hawaiian landscapes.
Taymor’s surrealist sensibilities will always mark her out, for good and bad. This film, in many ways, further echoes the director’s preoccupations with the alchemy of cinema and the art of illusion.
Julie Taymor returns to Shakespeare but not as we know it…
Feels curiously lightweight compared to Titus. Then again, most films/plays would.
An inspired, but sometimes irksome take on 400 year old material.