Helen Mirren stars in film of "Tempest" with twist

Sat Sep 11, 2010 10:45am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

VENICE (Reuters) - Helen Mirren stars in a new movie version of Shakespeare's "The Tempest," but it comes with a twist as the Oscar-winning British actress takes on the male role of Prospero and becomes Prospera instead.

The reinterpretation of the play, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year, was devised by director Julie Taymor, who shot it on the islands of Hawaii.

Some rewriting was necessary to make the character of Prospera work, particularly her back story according to which she becomes the widow and heir to the deceased Duke of Milan.

Like Prospero, she studied the alchemical arts, although as a woman she was forced to do so in secret. When she inherits the dukedom, her treacherous brother Antonio forces her aside by accusing her of witchcraft.

For Mirren, the gender switch changes the relationship between Prospero/Prospera and daughter Miranda, and adds a political dimension to the play with her banishment the direct result of being a woman in a male-dominated court.

"Women have been punished for being in power, for being powerful for many centuries and I thought that was the remarkable thing about making Prospero into Prospera," Mirren told reporters in Venice, where The Tempest closes the film festival on Saturday.

"You can bring in that history of female struggle, and certainly in Shakespeare's day and for many centuries before and after women of knowledge were punished for that knowledge," the 65-year-old added.

"We can see now in the extreme fundamentalist states, whatever religion they are, that they want to exclude women from education ... because an educated woman is a dangerous thing."   Continued...

<p>Actress Helen Mirren arrives at Excelsior hotel before a photocall of out-of-competition film "The Tempest" by Julie Taymor at the 67th Venice Film Festival September 11, 2010. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi</p>