“Shortly will all my labors end,” groans Prospera. Ooh, not shortly enough. There’s nothing all that wrong with Julie Taymor’s The Tempest, in fact, much of it should be applauded but there are too many errors that prove fatal. In the late 1980’s and 1990’s there was a rejuvenation of interest in Hollywood for Shakespeare adaptations. Fostered in by Kenneth Branagh and followed by a spate of modern takes on the classics (1993’s brilliant Richard III with Ian McKellen and 2000’s less brilliant Ethan Hawke Hamlet spring to mind) but then the fad died. I’m not sure The Tempest has the clout to revive it but here’s hoping. The problem with The Tempest is that the whole thing is uneven. This is a very well-acted movie with a top flight cast beginning with the lead. That’s no typo in the first sentence. Helen Mirrin plays Prosera, a part traditionally played by a man. She’s fantastic, and adds to the relationships in the script, most notably with her daughter Miranda. The protective father bit with a male Prospero always seemed domineering to me, whereas here it strikes a perfect note.
Miranda herself is played by Felicity Jones and is very good as well (it’s her second performance in a bad movie however, but I can tell you that Shakespeare thinks much more of her character than the scriptwriter of Like Crazy does). Other inspired choices are Alfred Molina, Chris Cooper, Djimon Hounsou and Russell Brand and various villains and fools. Very bad is Reeve Carney as Miranda’s love interest (admittedly the worst part in the play but especially awful here). However, the performances are saddled with bizarre and wrong filmmaking choices. The special effects are terrible and unnecessary, distracting and over the top. The movie’s best moments are when it slows down and focuses on the actors, mainly in comic scenes with Brand, Molina, and Hounsou and during a bravura sequence at the finale with Mirren holding court. But moments like those don’t come around nearly enough and they don’t linger as long as they should. The script, of course, is quite good.