The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

30° Stony Brook, NY
The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Movie Review: The Tempest

Photo Credit:

Julie Taymor’s recent foray into tempestuous territory aired at the Staller Center on campus on Friday, March 25th.

Taymor, whose films include other imaginative, highly cinematic works such as Across the Universe (2007), Frida (2002), and another Shakespearean re-make, Titus (1999), alters the bard’s original by making the play’s main character, Prospero, into a woman—Prospera, played by Helen Mirren.

Such gender-bending is not unusual in The Tempest. A 2002 production of the play at Washington, D.C.’s eminent Folger Theatre made both Ariel, Prospero’s spirit servant, and Caliban, her mortal slave, into women. The effects of the stage production high-lighted the play’s colonial and sexist overtones while creating a lust triangle between the sorcerer and his two servants.

By casting a woman in the role of Prospero, Taymor significantly alters the dynamics of the play—for the better. Helen Mirren is both powerful and fragile as the exiled sorceress and duchess of Milan, whose brother usurped her throne 12 years ago.

Mirren manages to make the power and revenge hungry Prospero into a sympathetic figure, whose motherly care for her daughter, Miranda, seems truer than the Shakespearean originals.

At the same time, the colonialist elements of the play that lie at its center remain present in the film. Ariel (Ben Whishaw) is enslaved to Prospera just as much as Caliban is. By having Djimon Hounsou play the role of Caliban, his enslavement is made all the more pronounced. The ethereal, androgynous beauty of Ariel and his ghostly white body starkly contrast the patchy colored Caliban, who is ugly, stupid and much-abused.

In the role of Caliban, Hounsou’s performance reminds us that just as Prospera was unjustly unseated from her position in Milan, she in turn has taken power over the island by using her magic against him.

The cast is rounded out by several excellent actors from both sides of the Atlantic. The gifted Chris Cooper and David Strathairn appear as the usurping Antonio, brother to Prospera, and King Alonso of Naples, respectively. Though their parts appear small, they deliver their lines with strength and gravitas. Shakespearean English never sounded this good in the mouths of Americans.

Russell Brand and Alfred Molina, however, delight as the clowns of the play, Trinculo and Stephano. Their ridiculous antics provide much needed humor to a film whose 110 minutes at times seem tedious and over drawn.

Similarly, the special effects used for Prospera’s magic are campy rather than frightening.

The costumes, however, are deliciously other worldly, full of color and imagination. The golden brocades and blue-green velvets of the island inhabitants color the screen while the black finery of the Neapolitans and Milanese castaways is decorated with silver zippers.

Although the film lacks the energy and visceral emotion of Taymor’s Titus, this version of The Tempest offers a more ethereal interpretation of the play, an element that is certainly appropriate to Shakespeare’s meditative last work. The cinematography and Mirren’s thoughtful performance as Prospera are enough to make this worth watching for any Shakespeare buff.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Statesman

Your donation will support the student journalists of Stony Brook University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Statesman

Comments (0)

All The Statesman Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *