Theatre Thursdays: The Tempest

I’m not going to lie to you: the main reason I wanted to watch this movie is because I have become an unabashed Ben Whishaw fangirl following Skyfall, and I needed more of his stupid face in my life.

Whishaw plays Ariel, and he does an awesome job, but he turned out to be just one impressive actor in a sea of great performances. This movie features, among others, Helen Mirren, Alan Cumming, Alfred Molina, Russell Brand, and a bunch of other fabulous people.

Helen Mirren plays Prospera, a gender-swapped version of the original play’s main character Prospero, and, well, she is amazing. I’ve talked about her in a previous post where I reported that she was interested in playing the Doctor, and let me just reiterate that Helen Mirren should seriously play all your male faves. Switching the gender gives Prospera’s disenfranchisement and conflict with her family more depth and makes her coming into power as a sorceress less of a revenge story and more of a female empowerment tale. Her interactions with Ariel were particularly poignant (Luce and I ship it sorry we’re not sorry), and, I dunno, I would watch Helen Mirren watch paint dry so maybe I’m not the best judge of her performance in general but I though she was awesome all around.

As for the other actors I mentioned, they were all good, but a few stole the show, particularly Russell Brand. I do think Russell Brand can be funny as hell in the right venue, but I never would have expected to see him in Shakespeare. However, he plays a character who is basically himself – a goofy, crass drunkard – so his performance is hilarious and spot-on.

Although, as I said, Ben Whishaw was awesomesauce, I was a little annoyed by the CGI they used for Ariel. It was really corny and just plain bad at times, and I feel like a movie that had this star-studded cast of characters probably had the budget to do some less shitty special effects.

The one thing that really gives me pause is the portrayal of Caliban. The ye-olden-timey racist way characters like Caliban are written is really grating, and poses a difficult question: is it more racist to cast POC as characters like Caliban who embody every dangerous stereotype about black men that you can think of, or to whitewash a character who is canonically POC? Obviously society is not going to stop revering Shakespeare as an author, but there has to be some way to interpret his plays (whether by cutting the script in a certain way, making different costume choices, something) that puts less emphasis on the terribad paternalistic/imperialistic racist mentalities of Elizabethan-era writers.

All in all this was a pretty awesome movie, although I wish they’d have upped the ante and done something a bit cooler with the effects and a bit less depressingly, old-school-ly racist with Caliban’s character.

7 thoughts on “Theatre Thursdays: The Tempest

  1. I still can’t believe I haven’t gotten around to watching this.

    If my college Shakespeare professor can interpret “Taming of the Shrew” to have more of a feminist ending, then I’m sure somebody has a way to portray Caliban in a less racist manner. Patrick Stewart starred in a race reversed “Othello”, which makes me wonder what doing that to “The Tempest” would be like.

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