Golden Years

Director: John Miller (2016)

With grand designs on Hollywood, TV presenter and star of DIY SOS Nick Knowles has knocked out this very British comedy.

His workmanlike script is an off the shelf construction of stately homes, incompetent cops, cups of tea and bare arses.

As mild mannered retiree Arthur, Bernard Hill leads a solid cast that includes Una Stubbs, Alun Armstrong, Simon Callow and Virginia McKenna.

They give this gentle crime caper a dash of colour and a veneer of respectability.

Accidentally discovering an aptitude for bank robbery, Arthur plans to save the local bowling club from closure and sets about raising the funds in a Robin Hood stylee.

The story highlights the contemporary issue of OAP’s being fleeced of their pensions by robber banks, and makes a point of the invisibility of the elderly in society.

It bestows vitality on its characters and respect to its audience by wisely saving its mockery for the media attention seeking copper in charge of the robbery investigation.

Brad Moore as Detective Stringer channels his inner David Brent in a perma-tanned performance.

Although it offers mild entertainment and is difficult to object to, it all feels like the movie version of a never seen 1970s TV sitcom.

Breaking the golden rule of cinema finance, Knowles has used his own cash to fund the project.

There’s definitely a screw loose somewhere.

Heaven Knows What

Director: Ben & Joshua Safdie (2016)

This raw tale of homeless heroin addicts refuses to offer easy solutions or heavy handed homilies.

It’s a loosely plotted account of dependancy, desperation and destitution, told with a blessed lack of sentiment or backstory. Events are given an immediacy through cold location work, shot guerrilla-style with handheld cameras.

New York is presented as an overcrowded, dirty, concrete conurbation where the state uses medicine to control the population. The internet exists but technology intermittently fails.

Adding an astonishing synth soundtrack to the opening scenes of dystopia and isolation, it feels like a 1970s sci-fi prophesy of the 21st century. And it’s set in the present day.

Framing the drama in this way affords us a degree of separation from events, necessary for us to endure watching them.

Based on her own memoir of life on New York streets, Arielle Holmes is compellingly aggressive and agitated performance as Harley.

She rebounds between sadistic addict Ilya and drug dealer Mike, leading to a running battle between the abusive pair. Caleb Landry Jones and Buddy Duress are grubbily convincing.

Littered among the mental illness, overdoses, shoplifting, fighting and begging are small random acts of kindness. They fuel a shambling camaraderie among the down and very nearly outs.

What seems to be dangerous, threatening and unhinged behaviour to bystanders, we recognise as being an understandable reaction to Harley’s extreme circumstance and limited options.

Heaven knows how she survived, not all her acquaintances are so fortunate.

 

Captain America: Civil War

Director: Anthony & Joe Russo (2016)

Hard on the heels of the showdown between Batman and Superman in Dawn of Justice  (2016) comes another super-powered spandex smack down.

This time it’s Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. facing off as Captain America and Iron Man.

Although nominally the third stand alone Captain America film, it plays like a third Avengers movie and deals with the fall out of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).

But Civil War lacks writer/director Joss Whedon’s ability to build a strong narrative and offer a spotlight for each major character.

Although the Russo’s bring a harder edge to the action, they haven’t Whedon’s grasp of group dynamics or comedy. They seem unable or unwilling to nurture interesting female characters, which is Whedon’s absolute stock in trade.

Here the blunt banter and sparse stabs of humour seem forced rather than growing organically out of character.

Many jokes seem parachuted in by executives and there are more than a few about gags about ageing. They lend the movie the stale air of a spandex version of Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables franchise.

The ferocious and superbly choreographed opening action scenes are at the very top end of Civil War‘s 12A certificate.

But the story is cluttered with too many minor characters. New ones are introduced to flag up their own stand alone solo movie and there’s a much herald appearance of a rebooted favourite.

Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle return respectively as sidekicks War Machine and The Falcon. The Hulk and Thor are noticeably absent.

Young Brit Tom Holland steals the film with his wide eyed chatterbox take on Peter Parker.

It’s a shame his Spider-Man CGI alter-ego is so poorly rendered, all the more puzzling as the generally the film looks fantastic in its IMAX 3D version.

A great deal of time is set up the Black Panther (2018) movie. Marvel seem so eager to involve and so self pleased at promoting a black character they haven’t looked too closely at how he’s presented.

Removed of the cowl and claws of Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman is fine in the undemanding role as the urbane and irony free African prince T’Challa.

However he’s prone to beginning sentences with ‘in my culture..’. Maybe people do speak like this but it reminded me of Ron Ely era Tarzan. His dialogue and demeanour seem freshly minted from the preconceptions of the white New Yorkers who created him back in 1966.

William Hurt and Martin Freeman are introduced as part of the Black Panther thread.

While Jeremy Renner gives the most lacklustre performance of his career as Hawkeye, Paul Bettany does some lovely work as the Vision.

The script can’t work out what to do with him or his ill defined powers, so opts for ignoring him whenever it can. Notably during the fighting.

Dragged down into the melee and still without a film to call their own, the only two female heroes are Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch.

At heart Civil War wants to be a hard hitting action thriller. The tone is suitably subdued as the script deals with politically compromised ideals, murdered parents and revenge.

Then it remembers the audience and bursts into blasts of candy coloured action.

Remorseful at collateral deaths of civilians during an Avengers mission, the once independent Iron Man is ready to accept UN oversight of The Avengers team.

Bizarrely for a soldier, Captain America doesn’t agree with operating under a hierarchal command system.

A UN conclave are about to sign an accord to will curtail superhero activity when they suffer a terrorist attack.

Number one suspect is Captain America’s friend turned terrorist agent Bucky Barnes. AKA The Winter Soldier.

Despite being played by the physically impressive Sebastian Stan, he remains an irritatingly anonymous figure.

Captain America is convinced Bucky is innocent and sets off to find him before the CIA do.

This puts him at odds with Iron Man, leaving the rest of The Avengers team to decide with whom they stand.

As allegiances shift and romance blooms across the barricades, loyalties are stretched and snapped.

Meanwhile there’s a sinister plot involving Daniel Bruhl’s shady scientist and a super enhanced elite death squad.

Easily the best part of Civil War is the promised punch up between the host of heroes.

It’s an imaginatively conceived and entertaining executed bout which leaves the heroes damaged and divided.

Unfortunately it happens about half way through the running time, so the rest of the film feels very anti-climactic.

And after two and a half hours of spandex clad action, I was beginning to chafe.

 

Jane Got A Gun

Director: Gavin O’Connor (2016)

Since winning her best actress Oscar for ballet based drama Black Swan (2010), Natalie Portman’s career has been noticeably quiet.

In this small time western with occasional epic leanings, she’s back with a bang as Jane, a pistol packing farmer.

The genre that refuses to go to boot hill is on a decent run. Not just with high profile recent Oscar winners The Revenant (2016) and The Hateful Eight (2016) but also taut tales such as Mads Mikkelson’s The Salvation (2015) and Kurt Russell’s Bone Tomahawk (2016).

Jane Got A Gun is a blend of genre motifs and contemporary hot topics, offering a tale of revenge, rape, infanticide and sex trafficking among ranches, brothels and shoot outs.

Considering its troubled production history it’s remarkable how competent and coherent the finished film is.

In May 2012, it was announced that Natalie Portman would star in the film as the title  Lynne Ramsay would direct. Michael Fassbender was reported as cast in the hero role and Joel Edgerton was cast as the villain.

Scheduling conflicts lead to Edgerton replacing Fassbender and Jude Law stepping into Edgerton’s boots. When director Lynne Ramsey was replaced by Gavin O’Connor, Law was replaced first by Bradley Cooper and then by Ewan McGregor.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji also left the production, and was replaced by Mandy Walker. And rewrites followed.

Jane is saddled with grief, a dirt poor farm and a wounded husband Ham, the underused Noah Emmerich.

Her gun is a mumbling Joel Edgerton who plays Jane’s alcoholic war hero and ex lover.

Their personal chemistry is no more lacking than any other relationship in the film.

Jane employs Dan as protection from Ewan McGregor’s pantomime villain, a notorious outlaw who has vowed to kill Ham.

As Bishop’s scurvy faced posse arrive for revenge, the dead bodies mount up alongside the spare horses.

The familiar narrative has a strong through line, even if some of the scenes fit awkwardly together.

There are some splendidly cinematic sweeping vistas and agreeable rough and rugged design.

But there’s a lack of chemistry and though the climax doesn’t fire blanks, it never quite hits the emotional targets it’s aiming for.

 

Friend Request

Director: Simon Verhoeven (2016)

This silly horror show about internet stalking opts for cheap slasher action and ignores the very real dangers of the virtual world.

Lurking at it’s dark heart is a cabal of well worn ideas such as secret sects and black magic.

Wasps buzz angrily and the scrabbly screechy soundtrack is laden with ominous echoes.

Alycia Debnam-Carey stars as student Laura who accepts a social media friend request from classmate Marina, played by pallid Liesl Ahlers.

When the lonely goth commits suicide on camera, Laura’s social media account takes on a life of its own, publishing the video and offensive messages.

As Laura’s friends suffer violent deaths, she must turn cyber sleuth to save herself and importantly, her diminishing online popularity.

It’s difficult to work out if the pair of cops investigating the case are a signifier of satirical intent. There are numerous unintentional laughs.

Presumably  in a bid to prevent legal problems, the specific social media site is never identified and the F word is never mentioned. But I could think of a few.

The Divide

Director: Katharine Round (2016)

There’s a serious lack of facts in this wooly minded documentary which wants to change the world.

It claims extreme levels of relative inequality within the UK and US are the main driver of social problems such as ill health, substance abuse and crime. Advertising is blamed for stimulating demand for unnecessary excessive consumption.

Archive news footage is mixed with testimony of historians and economists.

There’s a sloppy failure to define poverty or present a single chart or graph. Instead the narrative such as it is relies on emotive anecdotes and opinion to make its point.

Abandoning its starting point of 1928, it briefly raises the spectres of Thatcher and Reagan before landing in the present.

Seven people, including a rapping Scots alcoholic, a Wall Street psychologist and a Sunderland care worker, are used as examples of the unhappiness in both the rich and poor.

Apparently being wealthy does not make one happy, a theory I’d like to put to the test.

Described as a ‘a call to arms’ The Divide is propaganda for change but forgets to offer a solution to the ills it idnetifies.

Without which it amounts to little more than a cry of ‘it’s not fair’ – behaviour I don’t tolerate in my five year old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midnight Special

Director: Jeff Nichols (2016)

This downbeat road trip takes you on a mild goose chase with no particular place to go.

A messiah metaphor without a message, the story is bogged down by it’s own dour incoherence.

Stern Michael Shannon and vulnerable Jaeden Lieberher play  Roy and Alton, a father and son on the run.

Alton is considered a weapon by the FBI and a saviour by the cult his father has just escaped him from.

Alton’s speaking in tongues has revealed location to which they are heading, but time is running out.

With his health is worsening, Alton has to wear goggles and headphones for protection – except for when he doesn’t.

Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton offer solid support while Adam Driver brings as much humour to the role of an FBI analyst as he dare smuggle in.

Every line of dialogue is delivered with ponderous import but script has nothing to say about religion, belief or faith.

Car chases and shoot outs compete with earthquakes, meteor showers and power cuts but due to Alton’s increasing cosmic powers, there’s not much tension.

The Absent One

Director: Mikkel Norgaard (2016)

This moody Danish thriller has homelessness, rape, mental illness and murder plus teen drugs and sex.

A shame then the dour tone is a drag on momentum and the plot twists itself into the silliness of a revenge slasher flick.

Nikolaj Kaas and Fares Fares star as obsessive cop Carl and his laid back partner Assad. They’re dismissed in the precinct as the drunk and the Arab.

A suicide lead to them re-examine an old unsoved case of murdered school children.

They find a connection between the boarding school and current corruption in high society.

The split narrative flips between then and now with the flashbacks showing us layers of deceit and abuse, with potentially fatal consequences for the future.

Miranda. Admired and misunderstood

Warning: this essay about a four hundred year old play may contain spoilers..

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare on 23rd April, let’s take a look at his most undervalued character and re-evaluate her true importance to his work.

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Miranda by John Waterhouse, 1916

Miranda is the main female character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, his final and greatest play. Her tragedy is to be the most high profile character in his canon to be dismissed as a supporting character in order to allow a male character to be dominate the play at her expense.

She’s a vibrant, forceful creation sidelined by generations of productions in favour of her grumpy, duplicitous and barely sane father, the wizard Prospero.

Miranda needs to be reappraised as one half of the father daughter axis central to the play. To promote Prospero above Miranda in importance is to misunderstand Shakespeare’s intention. She is a crucial summation of Shakespeare’s grand legacy to the world.

And of course, because she’s written by Shakespeare, she’s a fabulous character in her own right.

The Play

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William Shakespeare.     The Droeshout portrait.     From the First Folio collection, published 1623

The Tempest is believed to have been written in 1610–11, and the first recorded performance is before James I on Hallowmas, November 1st, 1611.

Although Shakespeare is credited with having contributed to two further and generally undistinguished plays, The Tempest is regarded as his final solo and definitive work.

With the perfect and dramatic timing of the seasoned performer he was, Shakespeare milked his exit for all its considerable worth. He took every trick he knew to be successful on stage and stitched it all together into the exciting, funny, challenging and crowd pleasing final act of his career.

The Tempest is a rollicking  tale of shipwrecks, stolen kingdoms, murder plots, class warfare, magic, fairies, monsters, comedy, romance, satire and social commentary.

It was has variously been described as a comedy, a romance and a problem play. To limit The Tempest to a single category is absurd. It is an adventure, a romantic comedy, a reconciliation drama, an intimate family portrait and a deconstruction of Elizabethan politics and more. It is a dazzling combination of every art and technique at Shakespeare’s disposal, the pinnacle of his career, a four hundred year old play and the finest ever written.

It’s crowned with a moment of staggeringly self confident showmanship. In the closing speech Shakespeare demands the audience applaud his career achievements.

Shakespeare is the creator of the greatest female roles ever written such as Portia, Beatrice, Cleopatra and Lady MacBeth, to name a few.

And it is crazy to believe as many productions choose to, Shakespeare dressed this living testament, his final hurrah, with a simpering romantic female lead.

Prospero’s plans, the structure of the play and Miranda’s arc and behaviour demand she is played with strength, sexuality and humour.

The story

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Patrick Stewart as Prospero, RSC, 2006. Photo zuleikahenry.co.uk

The Tempest takes place on an unnamed and remote mediterranean island. The sorcerer Prospero, rightful Duke of Milan has been exiled there by his brother Antonio, who stole Prospero’s crown. Prospero has been plotting for the 12 years of his exile to punish Antonio and restore his 14 year old daughter Miranda to her rightful place in society.

Exploiting the powerful magic of his fairy servant Ariel, Prospero conjures up a storm, the eponymous tempest. This delivers his usurping brother Antonio to shore where while terrorising  Antonio and his party, Prospero arranges for Ferdinand, prince of Naples, to meet and fall in love with Miranda.

The problem with Miranda

Here is a typical description of Miranda, quoted by shakespeare-online.com from Shakespeare’s Comedy of The Tempest. (Ed. William J. Rolfe. New York: American Book Company. Pub. 1889.)

Miranda is a unique and exquisite creation of the poet’s magic. She is his ideal maiden, brought up from babyhood in an ideal way — the child of nature, with no other training than she received from a wise and loving father — an ideal father we may say

Ok, so it’s over a century old and written with the prejudices of the time but this perception of Miranda as ‘exquisite’ persists.

From Sparknotes:

Miranda is a gentle and compassionate, but also relatively passive, heroine. From her very first lines she displays a meek and emotional nature.

From Cliffnotes:

In all that she does, Miranda is sweet and pure, honest and loving.

My word she sounds dull. On this reading Miranda lacks any personal agency, reduced to a pawn of her father and married off to Naples secure the return of his Dukedom.

But this is the Shakespeare who wrote fiercely intelligent, adversarial, female characters. Not just in his tragedies such as the fiercely complex Cleopatra in Anthony and Cleopatra, but in his comedys. There is Hermione in A Winter’s Tale; Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and Olivia in Twelfth Night.

Miranda is the product of an arrogant, educated, driven man and has spent her entire life solely in his company. She has been educated and raised to rule by her father who not only wants to regain his own throne, but see her placed upon it.

Let’s consider what growing up with such a man would have on the psyche of the child. What effect would it have to live with and watch ones only parent plot for 12 years the downfall of his enemy? The ferociously single minded and revenge driven pursuit of power is behaviour which would seem normal.

Prospero indulges Miranda and terrorises the domestic staff. Wouldn’t it be more realistic and more fun for the audience if Miranda grows up to be truly her father’s child; manipulative, mendacious and power hungry? Someone able to conquer the world without her father’s assistance?

Before we look at how Miranda should be played, let’s examine Shakespeare’s structure to see why Miranda should be played in a far more forceful and interesting way.

ShakespeareThe structure

The graphic (right) contains two break-downs of The Tempest by scene.

The first highlights the scenes which are broadly comic if the roles Miranda and Ferdinand are played in a traditional straight, demurely romantic manner.

If the romance of Miranda and Ferdinand is not played as comic, then laughs are sparse in The Tempest. It becomes a severe essay on an old man’s personal and political legacy, essentially King Lear with a suntan.

The sullen spirit of Prospero looms darkly over proceedings and the bright figure of Miranda is marginalised, her agency and character denied the light in which to grow.

We’re left with only the drunken antics of Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban to provide comic relief to Prospero’s repetitive machinations.

Yes, Ariel’s impudence and Alonso’s jibes at the elderly courtier Gonzalo have a pointed sarcasm. But this leaves a great deal of the play without comedy.

The second shows how many more scenes are broadly comic if Miranda is played as a person with motivation and ambition.

Immediately the overall tone of the play is raised, injecting more light and therefore more shade.

And yes, playing The Tempest as a comedy alters the tone of parts to something more frivolous, but Prospero is always lurking about to ground the humour. And if these scenes are not played as humorous then the play sags.

It becomes more digestible to a wider audience who are offered a considerable amount of sugar to help swallow the bitter taste of Prospero’s revenge.

Plus of course, Shakespeare. One of the joys of his writing is the unparalleled ability to switchback between comedy, tragedy, pathos, bathos and any other tone he cares to strike. Often in a single line.

Plus watching two strangers meet and profess love without the joy of flirting is insufferably dull. Shakespeare has already demonstrated his mastery of portraying flirting couples. For example, Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.

It’s bizarre to imagine in what Shakespeare knows to be his final play he would provide a limp romance, especially when in all other scenes he’s pulling out all the big guns of his theatrical armoury.

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Aristotle. Roman copy in marble of Greek bronze bust by Lysippus c. 330 BC

So The Tempest needs Miranda to be funny, clever and spirited. Our interest in her romance relies on her being so. Shakespeare knows we will only approve of her sailing away to become queen of Naples if we warm to her. And no-one would ever warms the damp dishcloth she is commonly presented as being.

On a broader structural point, The Tempest is rare in being Shakespeare’s only second play after The Comedy of Errors to abide by the classical structure of the three unities.

Greek philosopher Aristole’s unities are limits placed upon the dramatist to restrict the use of time, place and action. Shakespeare’s sudden adoption of them in his final work seems a two fingered salute to the establishment for criticising his previous refusal to adhere these strictures.

The arc of Miranda

Miranda undergoes a remarkable journey of personal growth from immature desert island urchin to a commanding future queen of Naples. This is as fascinating a character arc as any in literature.

The Tempest opens with Miranda as a 14 year old, the same age as the doomed Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. In the Jacobean era of King James I she would be considered an adult woman.

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King James I, by John de Critz the Elder (before 1647)

But having spent her life from the age of 2 on a desert island, she is suffering from arrested development and consequently acting like a child when we first meet her. This gap between her adult age and her childish behaviour is a seam of humour to be mined.

She shares the island with her father Prospero, the rapacious monster Caliban and Ariel the fairy. There’s not much to choose from in terms of romantic suitors there.

Caliban’s attempt at rape tells us she understands the sex act, but importantly she has not connected it to her own sexuality and doesn’t understand lust or the nature of romantic love.

However once Miranda spies Ferdinand, her sexuality is awakened, triggering her rise to adulthood and authority.

And Miranda sets out to pursue dominion over sex and love with all the single minded energy of the daughter of a man who has spent 12 years plotting revenge on his enemies.

Just like her father, Miranda knows no half measures when her mind is set. Indeed she surpasses Prospero’s expectations by dominating Ferdinand in a manner her father undoubtedly approves of.

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Reeve Carney as Ferdinand, The Tempest (Dir. Julie Taymore, 2010)

A great deal of the fun in The Tempest is seeing the arrogant and unsuspecting Ferdinand swept away by the force of Miranda’s assault. As Miranda becomes a woman, so Ferdinand becomes her plaything and a means to facilitate her ascent to the throne.

By the time Ferdinand claims all he wants is a quiet life, it is said with the absolute ruefulness of a man exhausted and spent.

Miranda proves to be the one wearing the metaphorical trousers. When they sail away to Naples to be wed, Miranda has outgrown her father and her ascent is complete.

Humour, sex and magic

Every character in The Tempest lies, plots or seeks to persuade another person to take a course of action. This is no less true of Miranda.

Only the faithful Gonzalo does so for the benefit of someone other than himself. In his case, the worst he is guilty of is painting an optimistic picture of the island in order to cheer the grieving Alonso.

Each performer has to emphasise the difference between what their character says and does.

When Ferdinand swears to Prospero he will respect Miranda’s virginity, the actor playing Ferdinand must communicate to the audience his character has absolutely no intention of abiding by his own words. He must project arrogant belief he is cynically seducing a hapless maid while pretending to be madly in love.

Similarly Miranda must demure to her father but be clear to the audience she shares Ferdinand intentions. She must offer supplication to Ferdinand’s smooth seduction while suggesting the awakening of ravenous desire which is about to consume the unsuspecting prince.

Plus it’s far funnier to suggest the young pair are at it like rabbits every time Prospero’s back is turned, rather than see them placidly obeying him.

How Miranda should be played

Act II begins with Miranda commanding her father to quell the storm she rightly suspects is his doing. She is fully aware of his power and his temper. Yet from her very first lines she is not the slightest bit afraid to face him down. From their very first exchange, Miranda and Prospero are engaged in a power struggle:

If by your art, my dearest father, you have Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.

Feel the childish sarcasm in her first words ‘If by your art, my dearest father‘. Plus it tells us Miranda is aware of her father’s magic powers.

Prospero’s first words to Miranda and the audience are disingenuous:

Be collected: No more amazement: tell your piteous heart
There’s no harm done.

Yes, Prospero saves the passengers of the ship. But only in order to carry out his dastardly plan an punish them at leisure. And of course he created the storm in the first place. The doting father and daughter are vying for the upper hand from the off.

We learn Miranda is highly educated:

and here Have I, thy schoolmaster, made thee more profit Than other princesses can that have more time For vainer hours and tutors not so careful.

It is reasonable to assume Miranda has knowledge of her father’s magic. Just because it is not acknowledged on the page, it is possible to infer Miranda possesses magical ability and to demonstrate it on the stage.

Miranda loses interest in Prospero’s story of exile. He repeatedly demands she pay attention:

Thou attend’st not.

And:

Dost thou hear?

But why? Well, these pauses help focus the audience attention on the lengthy exposition.

But why is she so skittish? Especially when the story is about herself?

Consider Miranda has spent nearly her entire life incarcerated on the island with Prospero and familiarity has bred a casual if loving contempt. She has been indulged for years and is a victim of arrested development. Although 14 years old and therefore an adult, she acts with the attention deficit of a 4 year old .

Having received her father’s reassurances about the storm, she’s returned to playing with her toys and is in fact ignoring her fathers story. Her tone is bored. So now the scene has humour to liven up the reams of exposition. She offers sarcasm:

Your tale, sir, would cure deafness.

Prospero doesn’t reprimand Miranda. His repeated questioning of Miranda’s attention in this scene is usually attributed to his agitated state of mind. His years of plotting are coming to fruition and he has many characters to manoeuvre. But this limited reading of Miranda relegates her to an expository device, an empty listening jar, a thankless task for an actress and a more sombre play.

Prospero puts Miranda under a sleeping spell so he can discuss his plans with his servant Ariel. But is Miranda asleep? Does Prospero have the power he thinks over his daughter? Is she surreptitiously listening to all which is being said? Is Prospero being played by his daughter?

Miranda’s sarcasm is mirrored by Ariel later in the scene. He too offers Prospero sarcasm:

All hail, great master! grave sir, hail!

But unlike Miranda, Ariel is beaten down for his impudence. Even his slave Caliban subjects Prospero to open subordination:

There’s wood enough within.

So although Prospero is tremendously powerful, domestically he is challenged at every turn. This makes him a somewhat more sympathetic figure and softens his vindictive persona enough to make his redemption feasible.

As an aside, with its emphasis on performance and illusion, The Tempest is often read as an allegory for the theatre. Here Prospero’s domestic vicissitudes are a parallel for a troubled stage director trying to herd his cast in line his creative vision.

When Miranda first spies Ferdinand it is at Prospero’s behest. It’s the last time Prospero has control over his daughter, if indeed he ever had any. Miranda gasps:

I might call him A thing divine

Note Miranda’s objectification of Ferdinand as a thing. And she goes on pantingly:

The first That e’er I sigh’d for

And from here on Miranda’s character begins to develop as Ferdinand’s arrival triggers her sexual awakening.

Prospero seems to have no little idea of the potential of the strength of her character. Certainly the unsuspecting Ferdinand has no idea of the storm of  sexual aggression soon to be unleashed upon him.

Ferdinand sees Miranda as a cheap victory, quickly making a rash promise:

O, if a virgin, And your affection not gone forth, I’ll make you The queen of Naples

And we’ve no reason to suspect Ferdinand hasn’t made this offer countless times before. The greater the unthinking swagger in this scene, the further he falls later in the play.

Ferdinand freely admits through his flirtatious declaration:

Full many a lady I have eyed with best regard

With Prospero’s knowledge of court behaviour, he suspects full well the whole truth of Ferdinand’s statement of intent, causing the wizard to say:

this swift business I must uneasy make, lest too light winning Make the prize light.

But in his desire to protect his daughter and his own machinations, Prospero is hugely under-estimating his daughter.

Which takes us to Act 3.

When we see Ferdinand and Miranda alone on stage, the scene at face value is written as two lovers delivering lyrical but dramatically dull declarations of love.

But actually Shakespeare has gifted us a comic scene of one-upmanship where a predatory Ferdinand thinks he is is manipulating Miranda but actually he is doomed from the off.

Miranda may act the innocent but is in reality always one step ahead of her suitor. It is only at the end of the play Ferdinand comes to understand he has been played like a kipper and never stood a chance against his supposed prey.

Miranda is happy to deceive her father in order to pursue Ferdinand:

My father Is hard at study; pray now, rest yourself;

Note how the last two words are a command. She physically asserts herself over Ferdinand and wrestles him to the ground, the better to seduce him and emphasise her sexual conquest of him:

If you’ll sit down, I’ll bear your logs the while: pray, give me that

Again notice how the the last three words are a command. And Miranda establishes intimacy with Ferdinand by affecting the breaking a promise of not telling Ferdinand her name:

Miranda. O my father, I have broke your hest to say so!

Though she pretends to be unaware of her own behaviour, Miranda knows exactly what she is doing. There is a humorous gap between her fake naivety and aggressive pursuit of sexual experience:

The use of wood as a phallic symbol is not a modern invention:

for your sake Am I this patient logman.

Ferdinand freely admits his desire. And Miranda plays on his expectations by offering crocodile tears:

I am a fool To weep at what I am glad of.

..before drawing from Ferdinand a declaration of love:

Do you love me?

And extracts from him the promise of the throne which is her endgame:

My husband, then?

Note, she does not offer to be his wife, but he to be her husband. Ferdinand belongs to Miranda the same way Caliban and Ariel belong to her father. Ferdinand is Miranda’s ‘thing’, to play with as she wishes. She wishes to have sex and to take his throne.

And Miranda leaves a frustrated Ferdinand wanting more:

And mine, with my heart in’t; and now farewell Till half an hour hence.

We next meet the pair in Act 4 scene I.

They enter the stage. Lets have Miranda and Ferdinand blushed and with dishelved clothing, barely hiding their sexual activity from Prospero though clearly readable to the audience. If the scene is played as comedy it provides comic relief to the drama of previous scene and it lets the audience draw breath.

Plus it makes Prospero fallible and more likeable if the grand schemer fails to read what is happening under his nose. Is he blind or does he choose not to to see as a father may well choose to when his daughter becomes sexually active?

It adds humour to the scene if everything Miranda and Ferdinand say to Prospero is a lie, designed to hide the truth of their sexual activity from him.

When Ferdinand proclaims:

I warrant you sir; The white cold virgin snow upon my heart Abates the ardour of my liver.

Shakespeare here is piling deceit upon deceit as all three scheme against each other.

Prospero thinks he has the upper hand as Miranda is doing his bidding by becoming betrothed to Ferdinand.
Ferdinand thinks he has the advantage over Prospero having consummated his relationship with Miranda.
Miranda actually has Ferdinand utterly in her power. He is under her spell but doesn’t yet realise it.

Ferdinand is so dim as to what is really happening he tries to ingratiate himself with Prospero:

This is a most majestic vision, and Harmoniously charmingly.

While Prospero has been busy with his plans for Alonso, he even invites the pair to:

retire into my cell And there repose

at which the young lovers would be hard put to disguise their glee at being told to ‘rest’ together. Shakespeare wasn’t afraid to make his women sexually active. For example Juliet in Romeo and Juliet,  Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Cleopatra in Anthony And Cleopatra. Why not Miranda?

Then in Act V we next meet the lovers with the following stage direction:

Here PROSPERO discovers FERDINAND and MIRANDA playing at chess

And Miranda exclaims having been discovered inflagrante:

Sweet lord, you play me false.

With her words ‘Sweet lord’ as an exclamation of blasphemous surprise to herself and ‘you play me false’ directed not to Ferdinand but her father.

Ferdinand being not up to speed believes Miranda is talking to him:

No, my dear’st love, I would not for the world

And Miranda, on seeing her father with Alonso, berates him for any accusation of a double standard:

Yes, for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle, And I would call it, fair play.

Prospero seeks power in one way, she does it in another.

And Ferdinand, realising he has been caught with his trousers down, prostrates himself before Prospero and makes a plea for clemency:

Though the seas threaten, they are merciful; I have cursed them without cause.

And Miranda, upon seeing the crowd of courtiers, immediately recognises her universe and therefore her power base has expanded:

O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in’t!

And Prospero acknowledges Miranda’s journey to a sexually active adulthood, authority and independence and power over Ferdinand with the words:

Where I have hope to see the nuptial Of these our dear-beloved solemnized

Prospero accepts Ferdinand’s proposal not only because he is to be king of Naples and willing to make Miranda his queen, but because Miranda has Ferdinand’s arm twisted behind his back and she is clearly the one in command.

Miranda, child of Prospero and Shakespeare conquers the world

The Tempest is Shakespeare’s great goodbye to the theatre and a lyrical valedictory to his own career. If he uses Prospero as an on-stage proxy to deliver his last words, then what does Miranda represent?

Well, as all children are the creative endeavour of their parents, so Shakespeare’s canon are his children. Miranda symbolises his body of work, his great plays, sonnets and poems.

In the same way Prospero anticipates Miranda to rule not only Milan but Naples, Shakespeare expects his work to rule the kingdom of theatre long after his death.

Miranda symbolises Shakespeare’s work and encapsulates his desire for it to outlive and prosper without him. This is why Miranda deserves to be considered and portrayed as a character possessed of vitality, intelligence and wit. After all, if the bard considers her to be the epitome of his work, who are we to argue?

@ChrisHunneysett

17.04.2016

 

 

 

The Jungle Book

Director: Jon Favreau (2016)

I’m the world’s foremost fan of Disney’s 1967 animated classic, so I had my claws out ready to savage this glossy remake.

But I was disarmed from my first footstep into this spectacular jungle, a terrifically realised mix of live action and state of the art CGI.

The astonishingly lifelike landscape are computer generated by the team who made sci-fi epic Avatar (2009). The animals are from The Lord Of The Rings (2001) WETA Workshop.

Next year’s Visual FX Oscar must surely be in the bag.

This warm hearted, fleet footed, big budget beast is a hybrid spliced from Rudyard Kipling’s novels, Uncle Walt’s original film and his company’s latter day smash The Lion King (1994).

It’s an exciting, funny and touching adventure, though perhaps too scary for the very little ones. Likeable characters are killed, though we never see the blood.

A confident and charming Neel Sethi plays resourceful man cub Mowgli, the only actor on screen.

Mowgli bravely chooses to leave his home and save his family from Shere Khan the tiger.

Idris Elba is tremendous as the clever and vicious villain. He’s blind in one eye and myopic in his pursuit of his prey.

Mowgli sets off to the man village accompanied by Bagheera the panther and Baloo the Bear.

Respectively played by Ben Kingsley and Bill Murray, the pair are enjoyably wise, brave and comic.

En route they encounter angry elephants, seductive snakes, stinging bees and aggressive monkeys.

As a representative of a now endangered species, from a 21st century perspective Shere Kahn almost qualifies as the good guy.

He’s a prophet of doom whose violent fate proves the accuracy of his apocalyptic predictions concerning the dangers to the jungle from the unfettered technology of man.

The script can’t bring itself to embrace the scar faced usurper despite being more far-seeing and independent minded to the allegiance pledging wolf pack. To a British ear the wolves behaviour is eerily fascistic.

Apocalypse is hinted at again in the Brando-esque introduction of the enormous King Louie, not an Orang utan but an outsized outspan Gigantopithecus. He commands an army from the ruins of a long dead civilisation.

Christopher Walken is an inspired and deranged casting choice and delivers a performance to match.

Scarlett Johansson and Lupita Nyong’o have small roles with the former’s husk put to effective use.

When Mowgli learns of the death of a loved one, he decides to return and confront his mortal enemy.

The soundtrack includes the fabulous songs The Bare Necessities and I Wan’na Be like You.

So follow the jungle drums down to the cinema for a swinging good time.