I was lucky in that I was not force fed Shakespeare at school and rather came to the bard via the cinema (specifically via Olivier's RICHARD III) and perhaps because of this, understanding to some extent the problems of adapting 16th Century drama for the movies, I have never been a purist - film and the stage being very different mediums. My favourite Shakespearian films come on all shapes - great versions of Macbeth and King Lear from Akira Kurosawa with a word of the original text (THRONE OF BLOOD and RAN), Ian McKellan's RICHARD III, the Russian film of HAMLET, Olivier's HENRY V (along with his aforementioned RICHARD III), Al Pacino's two efforts and, of course Orson Welles CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT. Kenneth Branagh did a good job on HENRY V but left me cold with his full text HAMLET.
So where does Julie Taymor's THE TEMPEST stand with me? Well, for my money, it ranks very highly. The idea of having the magician Prospero played by a woman might seem a gimmick but it really works and although Prospera (as the character is now named) requires a new back story it gives the story new and subtle dimensions. Of the cast I cannot write highly enough and although I am often lax in mentioning casts on this blog I feel compelled to list all those living or wrecked on the magic island. Helen Mirren (Prospera), Felicity Jones (Miranda), Ben Whishaw, Djimon Hounsou (superb as Caliban), Tom Conti, Alan Cumming, Reeve Carney, David Stathaim and Chris Cooper. I will make special mention of Alfred Molina who proved by initial feeling that he was miscast totally wrong and also Russell Brand whose presence has stopped me watching the film till now - Sorry Russ, you were brilliant and very funny.
Filmed on a private island in Hawaii the film looks as good as it sounds and it encourages me to seek out Julie Taymor's TITUS. If you see the film on DVD make sure you watch the hour long "Making of" documentary RAISING THE TEMPEST - it is a masterclass in how to make one of these usually uninspired "bonus features" really enhance the main feature and be almost as interesting.