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The Tempest on the Big Screen
Coming on the heels of his Academy Award, Christopher Plummer takes on the enchanting role of Prospero in William Shakespeare’s poetic masterpiece The Tempest whih was filmed live over two days at the renowned Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada.
The excitement begins with the opening frame where you witness a shipwreck which Prospero has raised with the help of Ariel to revenge his enemies: his arrogant brother Antonio who robbed him of his dukedom, the King of Naples (Alonso), and his brother Sebastian. The seamen struggle to survive as their ship goes down, and spared from drowning, miraculously wash ashore on the island where Prospero and Miranda have lived since their banishment 12 years ago.
The special effects here, and throughout the film, are spectacular. The montage of clouds sweeping overhead, lightning flashes, cracks of thunder, and intermittent cuts to Prospero’s beloved daughter Miranda on the distant island, all contribute to the rough magic. The music is of a perfect piece with the material. It’s awash with gusty energy, exoticism, and never dips into the sentimental.
Plummer is the film’s real strength, however. With over 50 years experience playing classical roles, he fully commands here. Paired with Des McAnuff ( Big River, The Who’s Tommy), who directs this film, Plummer proves that he’s not resting on his laurels but willing to take on something rich. strange, and psychologically complex.
It’s no accident that The Tempest has resurfaced on the big screen. The Bard’s late romance has long been a favorite with critics and the public, and this new high-tech retooling will likely appeal to the ipad generation. Its popularity is hardly a trend either. Shakespeare’s fellow actors, Heminges and Condell of the Chamberlain’s Men, ensured the work wouldn’t be lost by tucking it in the first volume of his collected plays that would later be known as the “First Folio,” published in 1623.
Beyond this literary distinction, there is another reason that The Tempest, is a standout in the canon. Like the sonnets, The Tempest is generally interpreted autobiographically and referred to as Shakespeare’s valedictory play, or his “farewell to the stage.”
Plummer is on firm ground playing the magus. It is a part that goes well with his temperament. He dispenses with the idea of philosophical pageantry and does Prospero as a pater familias with a keen sense of humor. When Miranda delivers one of the most famous lines in the play, “O brave new world/ That has such people in’t,” Plummer’s Prospero responds to her with affectionate irony: “’Tis new to thee.”
There’s not a bad performance in the film. Dion Johnstone gives us a spiky-spined Caliban who wears his savagery well. Geraint Wyn Davies, as Stephano, and Bruce Dow, as a clownish Trinculo, make an art of purposelessness. Julyana Soelistyo is the most heavenly of Ariels, all welkin-blue and a real will-o-the-wisp in action. Though Trish Lindstrom and Gareth Potter lack romantic chemistry as Miranda and Ferdinand, and the love story consequently feels lukewarm, they still manage to deliver their Shakespearean verse with brio.
This Tempest is a dream of a project. It fuses theater’s immediacy and film’s permanence. The frequent glimpse the audience at the Stratford Festival as the camera pans and scans the live stage performance instead of being a distraction, serve as a subtle reminder that The Tempest was originally written for the stage and remains most at home on the boards.
The film, which opens on June 14th at more than 565 cinemas will be followed by a post-performance Q & A with Plummer and McAnuff. Even if you have seen The Tempest a myriad times, this is an event that you won’t want to miss.
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