Prospero's Books

Prospero's Books (Peter Greenaway, 1991) wr. Peter Greenaway from Shakespeare's The Tempest; John Gielgud, Michael Clark, Erland Josephson, Isabelle Pasco, Mark Rylance, Michel Blanc

Hal Hinson:
... a chore to sit through — off-puttingly tedious and obscure. Though billed as an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, the picture uses the play only as a jumping-off point for a catalogue of the director's own private concerns. Although it refers to the text of the play, what it actually has to do with Shakespeare's work or his themes is anybody's guess. It's so impenetrable, in fact, that the film's distributors have been forced to issue a written synopsis of the plot to help audiences find their bearings. (Washington Post)

Roger Ebert:
Prospero’s Books really exists outside criticism. All I can do is describe it. Most of the reviews of this film have missed the point; this is not a narrative, it need not make sense, and it is not “too difficult” because it could not have been any less so. It is simply a work of original art, which Greenaway asks us to accept or reject on his own terms.

I'm in the camp that liked this. It has characteristics that I think are admirable in a work of art: complexity - of narrative stranding and referentiality, inter alia; beauty - in terms of the aesthetics of painting in a European tradition from the Renaissance onwards; inventive use of language, stylistics. That kind of thing. And John Gielgud is wonderful.

One thing that did annoy me the first time I saw it, and did again when I saw it yesterday: the use of a small screen inside the larger one. Always in the centre, and much more limited in its interest than what was going on in the background, it made me keep trying to look around it. Not much luck with that.

References and Links

IMDb page.

Wikipedia page.

Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 2 January, 2022 | Now: 4 January, 2022