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Greenaway has made groundbreaking use at the very latest technology combined with a characteristic tlourish oiRenaissance splendour. Inset Gielgud as Prospero (right) and Isabelle Pasco as Miranda (top).

European drama and. of course, painting. don’t find the need to indulge in that set of arguments. It‘s my concern in cinema to try ' to find an alternative to the dominant filmic mode at the moment, which suggests there should be a very strong emotional relationship between the audience and the screen. Without too much vainglory, I think one can suppose that audiences are sophisticated enough to understand a cinema of ideas. My aim is to avoid feeding them yet more nursery pap.‘

Prospero '5 Books certainly doesn’t do that. Following the pattern set by the line drawings in The Draughtsman '5 Contract, the time-lapse photography in A Zed and Two Naughts, or indeed the exaggerated count to a hundred in Drowning By Numbers, Greenaway intersperses the text ofthe play with yet another taxonomy of human knowledge. This time it’s the eponymous books, twenty-four tomes from Prospero’s library in Milan (helpfully placed in the boat as he sailed off towards his island banishment), which offer in print the sum total of Renaissance understanding. Books on cartography, on science. on the arts, their outmoded content offers a familiar Greenaway underlining ofthe transient nature of all our classification systems and values.


The final volume in the set is The Tempest itself. In the earlier section of the film we see Gielgud actually writing the drama‘s blank verse, an image which deliberately runs together the roles of Shakespeare as author composing the piece and Prospero as wizard controlling the action. Both these acts of creation however can only be brought before us us by the similarly paralleled master illusionists, Gielgud the actor and Greenaway the filmmaker. From author to character to performance to film, Prospero’s Books clearly has a sense of itself as a series of Chinese boxes, held, in the final analysis, in the palm of the audience.


can suppose that audiences are sophisticated enoughto understand a cinema of ideas. My aim is to avoid feeding them yet more nursery


Such notions about illusion and playmaking are one point where Greenaway’s recurring aesthetic concerns mesh perfectly with the body of The Tempest’s text. But it’s intriguing too that

the particular moment in the play on which

the filmmaker zeros in with the greatest concentration also links it with certain elements in his previous celluloid outings. As Prospero’s magicianly revenge plot

manoeuvres his Milanese enemies under the

most rigorous spell of imprisoning enchantment, his spritish servant Ariel comments: ‘Your charm so strongly works ‘em/ That ifyou now beheld them your affections/ Would become tender’. It’s at this juncture that Prospero realises the

needless cruelty of the ends to which he has

directed all his knowledge. Soon he is to break his sorcerer’s staff and finally renounce his powers.

‘What I’ve done deliberately is to

over-emphasise that particular speech. We hear it three times and see it on screen. For me it becomes a pivotal moment. Up to that

point, as master puppeteer Gielgud has voiced all the parts, they‘ve been his

creatures as unutterably as they‘ve been Shakespeare’s creatures. But suddenly.

when revenge has ceased and forgiveness is

allowed the space. they all come alive, on

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