The Tempest

The Tempest (1979)
dir. Derek Jarman

Upon sitting down to watch Derek Jarman’s film adaptation of The Tempest, I was not sure what it was that I expected. However, I feel as if it can be safe to say that what I watched was definitely not it. The film adaptation starred Heathcote Williams as Prospero, Toyah Willcox as Miranda, David Meyer as Fedinand, Karl Johnson as Ariel, and Jack Birkett as Caliban. It also had a very confusing appearance by Elisabeth Welch, singing “Stormy Weather” by Etta James.

Jarman’s adaptation was set, of course, on an island. However, it mainly took place in a seemingly deserted mansion that looked more as if it was meant to be an asylum than someone’s actual home. It just looked and felt very bizarre in its nature. Many (if not all) of the rooms that contained people had hay on the ground as if they were kept in a barn like animals, and wherever Prospero spent his time there was writing on the walls. Even though the viewer witnesses Caliban going around doing chores, it seems as if spider webs multiplied as soon as the viewer looked away for a brief moment. The representation that the characters also put forth an extremely bizarre show.

Perhaps the most bizarre character was Willcox’s portrayal of Miranda. Miranda, having had grown up on the island and without the company of many people, can be expected to be different in her nature. However, the Miranda in this film seemed more like a child that, for a lack of a better way to put it, had an exposure to many, many, kinds of drugs. For some reason, her hair is chopped up and half braided to stick off her head and always had pieces of string coming out of the ends. Occasionally, when trying to look pretty, she had beads and jewels of some kind coming off of those strings. She had a childlike curiosity about things, but at the same time she crept about like some sort of strangely tamed animal.

Despite these strange and bizarre representations that, most of the time, had me questioning if I was watching this movie or having some kind of terrible nightmare, I held out hoping that there might be one redeeming quality. I was hoping that it would be shown when Prospero released Ariel from his servitude. I was disappointed and thoroughly confused. (K. Carbon, September 2013)

For Prospero, it came about like a secondary thought. Even though it was something that was frequently mentioned between the both of them, Prospero seemed to only do it as a second thought to the celebrations that were happening. Then the camera focuses in on Ariel. Ariel smiles into the camera as the piano starts to play and flower petals rain from the air. Not only do they rain, but they come down in walls– making it impossible to see anything else that is going on. Then, suddenly, Elisabeth Welch comes into the room as a spirit that is dressed like the sun. I still do not know why she came in at this moment, but she was singing, “Stormy Weather” by Etta James. Then, when she left, everyone was gone except for Ariel and Prospero. The celebration decorations were still up, and flower petals were littered on the floor. After a few moments of tense and confusing silence, Ariel speaks as Prospero, who is either asleep or dead is laying still on a couch. Then, after speaking, Ariel runs out of the room and disappears before Prospero could change his mind. Then, after some words from Prospero in the background, the movie ends and we have no idea what happened to anyone else in this adaptation.

Jarman’s adaptation of The Tempest could not be more bizarre if he tried to make it that way. The character representations left me confused and so did many of the stylistic choices that were made. In my opinion, it was not a success by any stretch of the imagination. I do not recommend that anyone watch this adaptation if they can help it.

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