Friday Film Focus: The Tempest, 2010, Stratford Festival

OK, it’s Friday, and this is the day of the week that Hollywood loves to open a new flick, but I have something else in mind: one of the many productions of The Tempest that are available on video.

In 2010, as part of Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Des McAnuff directed Christopher Plummer as Prospero in a well-received production which was subsequently captured for video release. If I was somewhat (hell, completely) ambivalent about last week’s video–the 1980 BBC Complete works entry–there’s no hedging or qualifications here. This is one I can get behind.

The film/play begins simply enough–a blue child-like sprite descends seemingly in water (or do I think that only because she’s blue?) to retrieve a book on the floor (of the ocean?). Then we hear Miranda’s cry of “Father!” just as we’re thrown into the chaos onboard the ship. I’m not sure if it’s the use of the camera and its angles, but it looked as if the stage itself was moving, up and down. Occasionally during this scene, we hear Miranda call out for her father. It’s a nice touch.

When we finally meet them, they appear more ramshackle than the beautifully dressed pair in the BBC version: her dress is not-quite completely put together (though by the end, better garments do appear on them…magic?) and his “magic garment” looks like it was made of seaweed. This rundown appearance adds to a sense of familial familiarity and love between the two. When she says his tale could cure deafness, they share a laugh together.

Plummer’s Prospero’s relationship with the island’s two other inhabitants is a bit more troubled (as they should be). Ariel–that blue sprite from the beginning–is more than a child, a teen perhaps, and not Prospero’s…there’s a tension there, with a feeling of underlying love. Caliban–truly a hodgepodge of animals–is obviously more antagonistic (as is rightfully so, as this was his island)…he revels in his memory of his attempted rape of Miranda (you’ve got to think he doesn’t consider it rape).

McAnuff does some interesting things with the concept of observation: we observe Caliban observing Ariel and Prospero observing Ferdinand. This kind of layering and mix of objectivity (we see each) and subjectivity (we know each is seeing the scene differently) somehow makes the play work better, giving it a more story-like, fable-like vibe. Perfect for a play with magic and beasts.

This is the most humorous version of The Tempest that I can remember (there was quite a bit of humor in the Teller production a few years back, if memory serves, but it seemed more wistful). Here, the interplay is funny, not only between father and daughter but within the Caliban and his new masters, Stephano and Trinculo who are presented like actual Elizabethan clowns. When Ferdinand comes on stage carrying his wood, it is the most ridiculously large log you’ve ever seen. It’s just fun and funny.

Across the board, McAnuff’s actors are excellent. Plummer is very good, as is Trish Lindstrom as Miranda; and as I noted, there is wonderful interplay between them. Gareth Potter as Ferdinand is perfectly earnest and handsome. And Dion Johnstone and Julyana Soelistyo make for great Caliban and Ariels, respectively.

If you can get a hold of this–I got it through my local library, and I believe you can rent it off YouTube–this is definitely one I think you should check out… at least in comparison to the BBC.

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