To say that Derek Jarman's adaptation of the Shakespearean classic outraged purists, would be an understatement. But then this was never going to be a traditional interpretation of Shakespeare's final work, or to be more precise, the last play solely attributed to the Bard.
That Jarman took a series of liberties with the original text, including relocating the main body of the work from the shores of a remote island to a candle-lit abbey style mansion, almost goes without saying. And yet within his spirited reworking, the skeleton on the play remains intact. Namely the story of how Prospero, the right Duke of Milan as usurped by his brother Antonio with the support of Alonso, the King of Naples, wreaks revenge by commanding Ariel, a powerful spirit to raise a tempestuous storm to shipwreck those who conspired against him, only for Prospero's daughter Miranda to fall in love with Ferdinand, son of his sworn enemy, the King of Naples.
Suffice to say, all's well that ends well, even if the post-punk visualisation on offer here, would delight as many as it would offend and inparticular those who viewed it an outright travesty of a great play. That said, Jubilee star Toyah Willcox gives a remarkably fresh appeal to the role of Miranda, whilst Jack Birkett relishes in the part of Caliban; Prospero's grotesque slave. As too did Jarman himself, along the way rebelling against tradition by citing Claire Davenport as Sycorax, witch and mother of Caliban as unseen in the original play, but now present in the infamous breastfeeding sequence.
Only for all of the pros and cons of the piece, this remains far from being a gay work. But it is a film in which Jarman delighted in turning up the volume of Shakespearean campness; from the casting of Christopher Biggins and Peter Turner as close friends Stephano and Trinculo, to the inclusion of an all out song and dance production number finalé, complete with Elisabeth Welch singing her heart out on Stormy Weather to a backdrop of a group of sailors.
Shot on location at Stoneleigh Abbey and Bamburgh, the end result is certainly one of the most unconventional interpretations of the play to date. For make no mistake The Tempest is a great play. Whether this is a great adaptation of it, depends on how well you like your classics given an avant-garde makeover.