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The Tempest

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Ben Wishaw and Helen Mirren in 'The Tempest'
Theatre director Julie Taymor's dalliances with the big screen kicked off with a bold reworking of William Shakespeare's Titus in 1999 and she comes full circle with this latest adaptation of The Tempest, purported to be the Bard's final play. The biggest revision here is a gender switch, as Taymor transforms the banished duke of Milan-turned-wizard Prospero into Helen Mirren's Prospera. It casts the relationship between her and daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones) in a different light, but elsewhere there's a curious lack of imagination or verve in Taymor's translation as it marches faithfully along to Shakespeare's text.

The Tempest features an eclectic and impressive cast of names, all undoubtedly drawn to the film for the opportunity to wrap their mouths around the playwright's challenging dialogue. Mirren is (unsurprisingly) fantastic in the lead role, while rising star Jones is equally impressive as Miranda. Djimon Hounsou takes on the part of Caliban, the island dwelling slave who plots to overthrow Prospera (a clear line drawn to colonialism), and Ben Whishaw is impish Ariel, an androgynous (and mostly naked) spirit. It's the interplay between these characters and Prospera that makes up the bulk of The Tempest's action, supported by Davis Strathairn's King Alonso and a pair of lighter performances from Russell Brand (the drunk and buffoonish Trinculo) and Alfred Molina (an equally sozzled Stephano).

Save for Reeve Carney's drippy portrayal of Ferdinand, it's hard to fault any of the cast as they dutifully commit to the words on the page. It all feels a bit like one big luvvie dress-up, though, as Taymor's CGI spectacles get bogged down by extended scenes of character's talking and a general lack of directorial dynamism. Consequently, The Tempest fails to generate much momentum or feel like a cohesive whole. Additionally, the story is not particularly opened up for the big screen - something Taymor herself managed with Titus and Baz Luhrmann with Romeo + Juliet. This staginess, in spite of the computer wizardry at the filmmakers' disposal, is The Tempest's biggest failing.

Taymor supplements the tale with a few of her own flourishes, giving composer (and spouse) Elliot Goldenthal room to write music to Shakespeare's words. Whishaw's ethereal sprite gets the most musical numbers, with Carney (the lead in Taymor's ill-fated Spider-Man Broadway show) delivering the love ballad 'O Mistress Mine' to Miranda as the films draws to a close. However, there isn't enough individuality in this take on The Tempest to lift it into something truly memorable. The authorship is clearly Bill S, but you go through it almost wishing for some dazzling originality and invention from Julie T. In the end, it's just a big budget folly that has ambitious intentions but fails to chisel them into a satisfying whole.


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