The Tempest review ?½

One certainly expects visual flair from Julie Taymor. After all, she helmed the record breaking stage show of The Lion King and has currently been shepherding the troubled Broadway production of Spider-Man. Furthermore, she's experienced with Shakespeare, having directed the bloody Titus on screen 12 years ago. So it is with much interest that one approaches her cinematic rendering of the Bard's late great work. Unfortunately, it's a misfire.  

The lead character Prospero has had a sex change and is now played by Helen Mirren, an inspired idea to start with but ultimately it adds little to the overall picture. She's impressively confident and commanding though as the hard-done-by Prospera, banished from Milan many years ago and now residing on a CGI island with her innocent teenage daughter Miranda (Jones). With the aid of outer worldly spirit Ariel (Whishaw), she brings forth to the island a shipful of her detractors, including her villainous brother Antonio (Cooper). Meanwhile native Caliban (Hounsou) is accosted by the dastardly dimwits Trinculo (Brand) and Stephano (Molina) while pretty Miranda falls in love with young Prince Ferdinand (Carney) who has also been washed up on the island.

Taymor blends in some '70s-style supernatural elements on occasion that briefly remind one of the kind of work Ken Russell used to do with his musical travesties, but these are few and far between. It's more a straight transposition of the text, with a few bold strokes thrown in.

Whishaw oddly gives the most natural performance, considering he's a sprite. He gets the tone right and is unforced and poetic, an actor who knows exactly what he's doing with calm precision. Cooper and his cohort Cumming register their evil intent with icy malevolence but fail to make their roles shine. They and Strathairn underplay too much at times while Brand and Molina overplay too much as the painfully unfunny japesters. Their constantly over-ripe mugging becomes very trying very quickly and is not remotely entertaining to witness.

All in all it's a surprisingly dull affair – clunky, underwhelming and uninvolving. Taymor should've taken lessons from Kenneth Branagh. He really knows how to make Shakespeare work on screen and his productions of Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet are magnificent. Taymor's stodgy effort fails to deliver the goods. Let's hope Ralph Fiennes has more luck with his upcoming version of Coriolanus.

Official Site
The Tempest at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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