Prospero's Books
directed by Peter Greenaway
(Miramax, 1991)

Prospero's Books is based on The Tempest, a 1612 play by William Shakespeare. The plot is classic: Prospero's brother has joined forces with the King of Naples to force Prospero (John Gielgud), the Duke of Milan, into exile on a far-away island with his only daughter. Prospero dreams of revenge, and he conjures a tempest to bring his enemies to him so he can exact it. But, alas, love gets in the way. His daughter, Miranda (Isabelle Pasco), falls in love with the son of his greatest enemy.

This movie deviates from Shakespeare's play in the plot. In the play, Prospero simply imagines it all and begins to write it down, speaking his play lines aloud as he writes. But in the movie, he has taken 32 books into exile with him and he draws his magical abilities from these books.

Gielgud is quite experienced as Prospero. He has portrayed the character five times in stage plays. This experience is reflected in the way he delivers the lines: smoothly and with complete sincerity. They are spoken so naturally that it seems as if he has taken Prospero to heart and been transformed into the character. That is fortunate, for he has a monologue as narrator throughout the movie.

You have never seen ballet performed quite like this. Michael Clark, as Caliban, demonstrates the true art of ballet and executes some stunning moves. He stars as the primary dancer from beginning to end. I just wonder how he manages to do some of those ground rolls without tearing off something that he will likely want later in life. Yes, nudity is rampant in this movie!

This artistic interpretation of Shakespeare is one that you will either love or hate. It brings out the extremes in viewers. The cinematography is spectacular. There are frequent overlays of a frame within a frame within a frame and other tricks of the camera and film. It is produced in the manner of the old films with the deep, blood red saturation. I am one of those viewers who hate this. I have always thought it was yucky to watch and still feel the same. But, my personal preferences aside, it is still a fabulous film. It is a unique take on Shakespeare.

When I took classes in Shakespeare, I never imagined his play looking quite like this. Perhaps I have a limited imagination.

For those with a great imagination, a love of blood-red films or just a fetish for watching naked people, this would be a must-see.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 15 February 2003

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