Some of it is maddeningly literal: "The very instant that I saw you, did/ My heart fly to your service" - a heart with wings flits across the screen. But this matters not when confronted with such a cornucopia of baroque theatrical splendour set to Michael Nyman's most sumptuous & urgently beautiful music. In terms of (earned!) self-indulgence and (playful!) humourlessness this is as far as I will go with Greenaway.
Neck Ruff Advisory: This film contains graphic and pervasive use of Elizabethan neck ruffs. By way of contrast, actors not wearing a neck ruff are either fully or partially nude. The final scene also involves graphic and dramatic use/abuse of a neck ruff. Rated "NR" for neck ruffs.
An adaptation of one of my favorite and most overlooked Shakespeare plays. Greenway captures the magic and transforms the style so perfectly into his world while still keeping everything right from the play. What he best handles is the character of Caliban, who has some of the richest soliloquies from the play. Pairing them with the choreography fits so perfectly. I love the affected dialogue and abundance on screen.
It really helps to know the play. In some parts, everything seems to come together: music, language, dance and graphics. In others, it just seems overly busy, even campy with its stylized costumes etc. Sometimes all the naked bodies were a distraction. I saw this film when it first came out, but it is totally different than what I remember.
Unfortunately Shakespeare's play kind of drowns in Greenaway's ostentatious experimentation; the complex sentence structures and now obsolete words are already a heavy precondition. It's better to read the play translated into modern English: http://nfs.sparknotes.com/tempest/
Since I've seen this film for the first time in cinema it's one of my all time favorites. There's so much to say: The whole sound design is brillant, especially the idea of using derivatives of John Gielgud's voice (his Shakespeare declamation is wonderful) as voices of the others to show the degrees of dependency. And Michael Nyman's strange pseudo-barque music fits wonderfully into the visual mannerism of the film.
I love the idea of this film. One of the least narrative works of Greenaway to date was based precisely in a Shakespeare' classic. His cinema would get more radically there, in that point where we are bathed in a sensory sea of images (and sounds, and text) that create an atmosphere with The Pilow Book, 5 years later. Here we have this marvelous imbroglio: a fantasmatic plot echoing under the belly of a filmmaker.