Prospero's Books Review

Image for Prospero's Books

A dance orientated re-telling of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which the magician Prospero, exiled to a remote island, finds his plans for revenge curtailed when his daughter falls in love with so of his chief enemy.


It’s doubtful even old Willie himself could make head nor tale let alone detect the full scope of his final play, The Tempest, in this dense visual tapestry that the auteur Peter Greenaway, part artist, part mad inventor, has concocted out the famous work. It is tough to fully register it as a film at all, not in the traditional sense, as the narrative becomes subsumed by erotic dance, and video sideshows tracing rotting fruit and rotting bodies, every kind of bodily excretion, and symbols and suggestions tormenting us with their elusive meaning.

There probably isn’t much meaning, beyond the suggestion that we really shouldn’t be so stuck-up about Shakespeare, and a hippish glint in the lavish Mr. Greenaway’s eye as he spins such a web of trippy delights. On that level it works, a painting both surrealistic and hauntingly traditional, come alive as a thickly persuasive paradise, through the centre of which strides John Gielgud, his voice looped madly though a synthesizer, as the eloquent, weary Prospero, lost on this island with naught but his daughter Miranda, the lonely beast Caliban (played by famed ballet dancer Michael Clarke with eye-watering contortions), and his library of books on everything from cosmographies to pornography (do we need re-emphasise this isn’t very faithful to the text?).

If it wasn’t so lavish, such a divine symbolic world conjured from arcane texts and lost knowledge — and a kinky minded director — one could see it as intellectualism run amuck. That feels unfair, but Greenaway unloosed is a fearsome thing to face.

Visually stunning, but the over use of technical trickery robs the film of any real dramatic resonance.