The Tempest, the last of William Shakespeare’s great plays, was adapted for the screen for the first time by Derek Jarman in 1979. Among the most visionary of modern film artists, Jarman, who died of AIDS in 1994 at age 52, was one of the first directors – outside the pornography circuit – to present openly gay material in feature-length films.
Shot on location at the ancient and ghostly Stoneleigh Abbey, The Tempest tells the story of Prospero the magician, who lives with his nubile daughter on an enchanted island and punishes his enemies when they are shipwrecked there. It’s a study of sexual and political power in the guise of a fairy tale.
Jarman presents Shakespeare’s intricate comedy of magic and revenge in a form that is at once faithful to the spirit of the play and an original and dazzling spectacle mixing Hollywood pastiche, high camp, and gothic horror. His film recalls the innocent homoeroticism of Pasolini’s versions of classics, while its lush sense of décor and color is worthy of Minnelli.
The film’s master stroke is the finale, a wedding feast designed and choreographed as as full scale production number, with the veteran black comedy musical star Elisabeth Welch wafting her way through a chorus of hunky sailors as she belts out “Stormy Weather.” It’s one of the great scenes in British cinema. –Kino
Derek Jarman (January 31, 1942- February 19, 1994), British film director, artist, and writer.
Jarman’s first films were experimental super 8mm shorts, a form he never entirely abandoned, and later developed further (in his films Imagining October (1984), The Angelic Conversation (1985), The Last Of England (1987) and The Garden (1990)) as a parallel to his narrative work.
Jarman made his debut in “overground” narrative filmmaking with the groundbreaking Sebastiane (1976), arguably the first British film to feature positive images of gay sexuality, and the first (and to date, only) film entirely in Latin. He follwed this with the film many regard as his first masterpiece, Jubilee (shot 1977, released 1978), in which Queen Elizabeth I of England is transported forward in time to a desolate and brutal wasteland ruled by her twentieth century namesake. Jubilee was arguably the first UK punk movie, and amongst its cast featured punk groups and figures such as Wayne County… read more
Derek Jarman's avant-garde, colorful, and campy take on William Shakespeare's final play is not the best representation of the Bard's story, as it tends to get lost down its own rabbit hole of bizarre distractions (and focus on Caliban over Prospero). But there are some choice moments here, including the climactic tempest represented by a cabaret performance of "Stormy Weather" by Elisabeth Welch.