Prospero’s Books (1991)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BB.5

United Kingdom/Netherlands/France/Italy/Japan, 1991, , , , , , , , , , , .  Screenplay by Peter Greenaway, based on the play The Tempest by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by , .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by

Peter Greenaway responds to the critical acclaim (and near mainstream status) of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover with his most ambitious project yet, his own jazzy re-telling of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. John Gielgud appears as the title character, in this version poring his fantasies out from his pen and telling the tale of island exile with daughter Miranda. Constantly surrounded by figures of literature, a number of naked servants and more than his fair share of cherubs, Prospero’s world of the mind provides for the kind of visual excess that Greenaway excels at, with the magnificent sets and costumes of his previous films on display, not to mention all the editorial flourishes (frames within frames, repeated motifs). Adding in a claim of literary adaptation, as opposed to the quirky and original delights of his invented narratives, gives this one a pretentious air that his funnier, earlier films didn’t have. I’ll take Andrea Ferreol removing her legs to enjoy orgies with twins over watching an adaptation of the Bard that involves a child pissing into a pool this much.  If you have no experience of the play, you won’t get anything out of this one, but if you know it well enough to enjoy someone freely interpreting it through his own fascinating, free-associative imagination, you might be engaged at times. Either way, it’s about twenty minutes too long and Gielgud comes off more like he’s remembering his lines from his performance in a stage version.

Toronto International Film Festival:  1991

Venice Film Festival:  In Competition


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