The Tempest

5.31 h 50 min2010PG-13
Prospera uses her magical powers to guide a ship and settle a score.
Julie Taymor
Helen MirrenRussell BrandReeve Carney
English [CC]
Audio languages
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Supporting actors
Tom ContiChris CooperAlan CummingDjimon HounsouFelicity JonesAlfred MolinaDavid StrathairnBen Whishaw
Julie TaymorRobert ChartoffLynn HendeeJulia Taylor-StanleyJason K. Lau
Touchstone Pictures
PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
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4.3 out of 5 stars

1015 global ratings

  1. 64% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 16% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 11% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 5% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 4% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

Jon WatersReviewed in the United States on March 7, 2019
5.0 out of 5 stars
Helen Mirren's Prospera Foregoes Her Vengeance
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Shakespeare’s play The Tempest (1611) has a well-deserved reputation for being difficult to comprehend. For one thing, there is no obvious plot, just three groups of shipwrecked survivors who wander across the desolate island that is inhabited by Prospero, a master of the ancient arts of sorcery. They eventually all meet in Prospero’s underground cell, where he removes the spells he has placed them under, and then inexplicably sets all free. Also, Shakespeare doesn’t provide any motivation for Prospero’s obsessive study of these dark secular arts, which makes his gesture at the end of the play in freeing his captives and relinquishing his esoteric powers all the more puzzling. How are we to make sense of it?

Julie Taymor’s faithful film version (2010) of The Tempest brings seamless CGI dramatizations and high production values to the original Shakespeare play. It opens with Prospera’s (played by Helen Mirren) backstory of how she neglected her political power as the Duke of Milan in order to pursue her studies of the esoteric arts to gain power over the elements, with the result that her brother Antonio (played by Chris Cooper) betrayed her as allegedly a witch, usurping her title and exiling her and her 3-year old daughter Miranda to an island prison, taking nothing but some clothes, some food, and some of her hermetic books. The film then picks up the narrative 12 years later. Prospera as the Magus has used her esoteric knowledge to control the elements of wind and fire, in the person of the sprite Ariel (played by Ben Whishaw) and its legion of shadows, and the elements of earth and water, in the person of Caliban, now the foster-child of Prospera, who has begun his education and taught him language, but who has enslaved him (his duties include bringing firewood to Prospera’s cell and catching fish for her dinner, which he vehemently detests).

The key relationship, however, is between Prospera and the sprite Ariel, who longs to be free from Prospera’s dominion. As the play begins, Prospera commands Ariel to use its power over wind and fire to shipwreck not only the evil Antonio and his corrupt assistant Sebastian, but also the blameless King of Naples and his entourage including the wise Gonzalo, onto the Magus’ island. The shipwrecked passengers are broken up into groups, with the heir to the Kingdom of Naples, the flawless Ferdinand (played by Reeve Carney) landing alone, completely unhurt, who happens upon the virginal Miranda (the lovely Felicity Jones) and instantly they mutually fall in love. Prospera even commands a masque-dance to commemorate their betrothal. All of this is true to the original Shakespeare play.

Djimon Hounsou plays Caliban in a traditional manner, consistent with his 100-some lines of dialogue, as a spurned acolyte, violently resenting the master’s inattention. In the throes of his resentment, Caliban betrays his step-mother-mistress and conspires with the drunkard Stephano (Alfred Molina) and the jester Trinculo (Russell Brand) to kill Prospera in her cell during her afternoon nap. But Prospera is forewarned of their plot by Ariel. These three buffoons parade across the island’s lava landscape in a parody of self-important bluster, but then are hounded by Ariel as the Harpy, in full black feathers and giant crow’s-beak, into a glen nearby Prospera’s cell, with all the other shipwrecked characters in thrall to her power now located within her cell, as the play’s denouement approaches.

Ariel’s success is rewarded with its freedom, and it returns to the airy heights unfettered by Prospera’s powers of dominion.

Now in her private element, and despite the moral outrage she has suffered at the hands of her brother Antonio and his stooge Sebastian, Prospera chooses to forego her righteous vengeance on these middling personalities. Indeed, what is the point of torturing these petty, greedy mediocrities? She disavows her esoteric power over wind, fire, water, and earth by tossing her magus’ staff into the sea, along with her hermetic books.

What is the significance of the knowledge that Prospera had obtained at great cost to her, but now abandons? This is the unanswered question of this late Shakespearean play. If you persist in uncovering the depths of true knowledge, and reach a coherent vision of that reality, what does that mean? Perhaps Shakespeare is saying, “Seek to achieve your own understanding, I cannot do that for you.” Isn’t this the most human accomplishment, a lifetime of immersion in philosophy, science, the arts, and of course, love?
23 people found this helpful
S.E.D.Reviewed in the United States on February 9, 2020
1.0 out of 5 stars
oh, my!
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A fan of Julie Taymor's, I looked forward to this version. Yikes. Not even the wonderful Helen Mirren could rescue this production. To begin with, the "plotting" scene was moved from Act II to Act III. I can't fathom why. Ariel is a spirit of the air, but in this version he spends a lot of time underwater; too, he is naked or in a body suit. Why? The visitation of the goddesses is eliminated; instead, we are treated to a montage of special effects that look like pieces of Logan's Run, run through a kaleidoscope.
The Tempest is a play with a lot of moving parts, and costumes give important clues to help remind the audience of who is who. The Neapolitans are dressed similarly and in like colors, so I had a hard time keeping the characters straight, even though I know the play fairly well. Trinculo and Stephano look like they have just come from Woodstock, though the other human characters are in period dress (except for the castaways, of course). Dressing Ariel like the faerie he is might have been a visual treat, at least. Caliban looked the part, but I found myself wondering why the slave character is played by a black actor with an African accent. A child of the Civil Rights movement, I squirmed, just a little.
Finally, the script! Uncut, The Tempest runs about three hours, which is long for a feature film. Shakespeare, love him, wrote for everyone's enjoyment, and I believe he would give his blessing to the many editions of his work that have been trimmed so as to communicate with contemporary audiences. This version, however, has been cut so drastically that it is incomprehensible (and remember the aforementioned moved scene!). Miranda and Ferdinand have many "charged" lines. In this version, the sexual innuendo - along with its humor - is lost. I am sorry that the fine actors who took part in this production had such an uphill climb.
While I have seen versions of Shakespeare's plays ( I own 6 Hamlet's, for example) that have been slightly boring in that they offered nothing new, this is the first one that made me say "whaaaaattt??????"
Just my opinion:-)
13 people found this helpful
Barbra MadejczykReviewed in the United States on January 27, 2015
5.0 out of 5 stars
Julie Taymor, a great designer and director, creates a lovely fantasy
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Julie Taymor's film of Shakespeare's The Tempest would win the Bard's approval. It is a beautiful modern interpretation of an Elizabethan pastoral fantasy. For those not familiar with the play, the story is of the widowed noblewoman Prospera, who is deposed by her brother. The brother lies to the king of Naples, telling him Prospera is a traitor, and has her put adrift in a tiny boat, along with her infant daughter. A friend manages to get her precious spell books into the boat before it is put out on the sea. Prospera and her daughter Miranda become stranded on a magical island where the noblewoman uses her magic arts to kill a cruel witch, enslave the human-like monster that is the witch's offspring, and free the spirits from their prisons. The grateful spirit Ariel aids her in revenge upon her brother and the king. Her opportunity to put the plan into motion comes when the king, his son, his brother, and Prospera's brother put out to sea, and she uses her power to create a great tempest so that they become stranded on her island. Part of her intent is to have the king's son marry her daughter. The people of Shakespeare's day were no different than the people of our time--they expected to be amazed by surprising interpretations of spirits and wizardly magic. I believe the film does not disappoint--the special effects design of the important elemental spirit Ariel is ethereal and wind-like, and appropriately startling when he shape-shifts into a tar-colored half-crow, half-woman harpy, or a red-gold blazing Fury. Although Shakespeare's script calls for the main character to be male (Prospero) Director Taymor has chosen to have a female play the role. The experienced and talented Helen Mirren brings all the authority and power necessary for the character, and I feel even people familiar with the story will find her a fine choice to play the sorcerer. I found that the visual beauty of the film matched the beautiful poetry of the spoken words. Instead of costuming the actors in either 16th century or 21st century clothing, Taymor chooses to dress them in a synthesis of both time periods giving the story a time-out-of-time look. The designs fit well with the earthy, fantastical suggestions in the script. Prospera and Miranda wear sand and sea tones of gauze, while the citizens of Naples wear leather and brass. This is a fantasy to richly pleasure the eye and the ear. Humor is provided by Alfred Molina and Russel Brand as the king's servants, who get drunk on a beached crate of wine and proceed to "take over" the island. If you are collecting films of Shakespeare's plays, I recommend this version of the Tempest for your video shelf.
25 people found this helpful
Wendy OhioReviewed in the United States on January 19, 2019
2.0 out of 5 stars
Poor Version of "The Tempest"
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Ben Whishaw as Ariel is the highlight of the production, but his acting is overshadowed by a wide variety of canera tricks to make him seem more otherwordly. Next best performance, I'm afraid, is Russell Brand as Trinculo (the fool of the play), and if Russell Brand is stealing the action, then this a BAD retelling of Shakespeare. Helen Mirren as Prospera wanders through the narrative, impressively boring. To be fair, Prospero's not the most thrilling role ever written, but I'd hoped for better. Even Djimon Honshou playing Caliban, a juicy and poetic part, fails to whip up excitement or stir the heart. This is the kind of Shakespeare production that makes people think the bard is a highbrow bore.
5 people found this helpful
Audrey ShabbasReviewed in the United States on September 20, 2016
5.0 out of 5 stars
Shakespeare was never this easy or fun!
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My private student and I agree. This is perfection! About time Prospero's role was played by a woman. . .and Helen Mirren is not ordinary woman. Her performance is extraordinary! The entire cast is so carefully chosen. Who else could the "clowns" be except for Russel Brand and Alfred Molina?

We studied five plays. . . not "reading" them as we all were made to do when we went to school. The Bard did write them to be read, but to be performed. We studied the language, the period, the setting, all the historiography and of course the characters, plot, etc. And then we did what Shakespeare wrote these for. . .we watched performances! All fabulous performances now on film. . .and lots of "teaching guides" on line. . make this a no-brainer for those home-schooled, or un-schooled.

Henry V is a good one to begin with. . .boys and girls love it. Don't be afraid to try it with 10 year olds. . .they will "get it". Once they understand the story, etc. and are keyed to watch facial nuances and body language, they will soon forget they are "hearing" a language which is difficult. . after five minutes of watching, it all falls into place.

I've been teaching for more than 50 years, but this is the first time I "taught Shakespeare". . .and what a success! I will definitely offer this class to private students again.
8 people found this helpful
RANDELReviewed in the United States on May 31, 2021
1.0 out of 5 stars
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Giving Julie Taymor access to CGI is like giving a dangerously obese child the key to a Candy Store. It's just not a good idea. And watching her cast Russell Brand in a play by Shakespeare makes me question if she really respects Shakespeare or whether she just enjoys traveling in fast company. In any event, this unfortunate travesty of THE TEMPEST is best ignored. And while I don't usually enjoy unnecessary gender-blind casting, like many other filmgoers, I will willingly watch Helen Mirren do anything the lady likes. She is a treasure. But not even she can salvage this over-busy piece of (oh, dreadful phrase!) Creative Direction.
One person found this helpful
Amazon CustomerReviewed in the United States on May 8, 2021
5.0 out of 5 stars
Great Movie, but doesn't totally follow the script!
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I bought this to show my high school literature class which is studying The Tempest. I believe Shakespeare is made to be watched not read! That said, I finally ditched it in favor of the Royal Shakespeare Company version because many things are changed in the script. Making a movie of a play changes the dynamics quite a bit, and so they left out a lot of unnecessary things. Of the two versions, I found this one more appealing and enjoyable. I especially enjoyed Prospero becoming Prospera. (Helen Mirren is fantastic!) So I will keep this for my personal collection, but depend on the other version for literature class.
JHDReviewed in the United States on March 19, 2014
5.0 out of 5 stars
Not totally Shakespeare, but in the right spirit and most illuminating.
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As a longtime student and fan of Shakespeare, I am always leery of film and video adaptations of his greatest plays. None ever comes close to what you can imagine in your mind, and few approach even the level of wonder that a good stage performance can inspire. Add to that a screenplay described as "based on," then go so far as to change the gender of the leading character, and I was prepared to hate this version as much as I do, say, most modern-dress versions of the Bard's plays. Instead, what a great delight it was to find that this interpretation does what all decent performances of Shakespeare should do: illuminate some aspect of the characters' personalities or some part of their motivations that may not have been as clear to us before. This film does that exceptionally well. Admittedly, it doesn't emphasize some of the story elements that I am accustomed to enjoying the most about The Tempest; but as an example of enlightening the viewer, what Helen Mirren's Prospera reveals about some of Prospero's concerns and aspirations for his daughter is something I suspect Shakespeare probably intended but no male actors have fully brought to the role before.

I don't feel any film version of The Tempest to date has quite captured the visual aspects of the play as fully as is possible, but this one perhaps comes the closest thus far. I'm glad I saw the film and bought the DVD.
4 people found this helpful
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