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Banished from his grand duchy by the King of Naples and his traitorous brother Sebastian, the Right Duke of Milan and Sorcerer Prospero finds refuge with his daughter Miranda to a forsaken island. But when unexpectedly Prospero's enemies approach, with the assistance of his airy spirit-servant, Ariel, he summons a mighty tempest, leading eventually the King to the isle and his son Ferdinand to the prison. As a result, Miranda and Ferdinand will fall in love, while at the same time, a few survivors of the shipwreck wander the desolate island with murderous intentions.Written by
The role of Prospero was originally intended for an older actor and John Gielgud was approached but declined. It was then offered to Terry-Thomas but his failing health caused him to turn it down. The character was then rewritten as a younger Prospero and Heathcote Williams was cast. See more »
For me, the Tempest and its characters (by which I mean the admirable ones) are like old friends. Ever since I first began to experience the play through acting classes (I played Ferdinand) I found myself immediately caught up in the fantastic world that Shakespeare created. I can distinctly remember one student deciding not to play Ferdinand after all, and so I took the stage and had the honor of playing opposite an excellent Miranda.
One of the virtues that a great friend has is that you can never fully know them - there is always something you can discover about their character. A film production of the Tempest of quality is thus like a visit to an old friend, dear to one's heart: each visit presents one with new perspective on the memory we had of the work. With Prospero's Books, the ritual and the elegance of the play was emphasized, the exuberant celebration of art within the art. Here, we see a vision as esoteric mysticism, with lovingly crafted interiors full of candles and chalk diagrams on floors, more Aleister Crowley than Naples nobleman. It also made me reconsider - why was it that Prospero was cast out of Naples? His magical power is so palpable in this production that it makes one wonder whether it was just politics that doomed Prospero to exile, but rather the fact of his difference from his peers. So, in the real world, he suffered. Was cast out, powerless to change the wrong to the right. All of the villains in this play, whether they realize it or not, act in accordance to creating a more pain-filled, hell of a world - it is always in the interest of the oppressor to make life on Earth closer to hell. But Prospero manages to bring these terrestrial villains into his island, the realm where he has (absolute) dominion.
Shakespeare brings his audience to the theater, the realm where Shakespeare dictates the events, the words, the outcomes. Shakespeare is, of course, Prospero - but what this film adaptation does that really honors the text is to make Prospero so sympathetic such a figure of reason, despite the fact that he is surrounded by what society calls irrational (astrological texts, alchemical symbols, magical diagrams, etc.). Is it more rational to be a man of the cloth and murder, or to be a heretic and work towards the righting of wrongs? Prospero IS a heretic, for the reason he abandons his magic is not because the books will lose their value in Naples, but because they are not necessary anymore - the world itself - has become the magic of the books.
In Hamlet, Hamlet presents a play to his peers. The play accuses his fellows of conspiring against others for their own advancement. The reaction of the audience varies: while Ophelia is puzzled, Claudius reacts with stunned shock. This happens within the play, and then Shakespeare has this play performed for the men of his time. Did Shakespeare watch for their reactions? In the tempest, Prospero lives the play he is constructing, and we live it with him. How do we react? Do you react with simple delight at the happy ending? Are you upset and shocked by the strangeness of this production, which is entirely fitting given the source material? Do you feel sad at the fact that this little life, the play, is rounded with a sleep, as transient as it is eternal? The tragedy is that Shakespeare creates a paradise of reason and hope for mankind's life on Earth but man is weak, and unwilling to realize it in favor of petty power struggles. We have Claudiuses.
Like a good friend, this film is not without its flaws. I disagree with the choice to paint some scenes entirely in blue. The dance of the mariners is rather tangential. But at the heart this is truly The Tempest, and one of its many faces.
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