River Of Grass
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On Film4: 4 Sep 1:00AM
Julie Taymor directs this CGI-heavy adaptation of Shakespeare's desert island fantasy play, starring Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones and Djimon Hounsou.
Imagine you're an idealistic, corduroy-clad English teacher. It's a wet Monday night, you're slumped over a drool-encrusted pile of sub-standard essays on the Bard's last play and you begin to dream up the ultimate school Shakespeare production. Money is no object. Sky's the limit. Screw that ungrateful, philistine bunch of year 9s, they're not playing - you'll get some Hollywood talent. As if by magic, Julie Taymor, Tony-Award-winning theatre and film director, maker of 1999's barmily impressive Shakespeare adaptation, Titus, signs on to direct.
In a bid to impress the right-on History teacher you've been trying to flirt with, you suggest Helen Mirren, true English pedigree, as a staff-wielding Prosper-a. This is a genuinely inspired bit of cross-casting - bringing in a new feminist subtext and lending the added insult of medieval chauvinism to the injury of Prospero's banishment. With Taymor and Mirren on board, an A-list cast follows in their wake: up-and-coming Felicity Jones as Miranda, Djimon Hounsou as Caliban, Alan Cummings, Alfred Molina... It's all working out rather splendidly, but takes a sudden turn, as even the sweetest dreams do...
Unfortunately, Julie, who's has commitments mounting the most expensive musical in history, Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, is going to have to leave you to it. People keep getting injured on set, apparently, the press are making a meal of it... She has to rush off to Broadway. Any problems, she'll be at the end of the phone!
Not to worry, your colleague and self-professedly down-wiv-da-kidz music teacher offers to handle the soundtrack. Suddenly, your stellar cast's subtly-intoned iambic pentameter is being drowned out by what can only be described as a Goth-prog-rock interludes. Never mind, it's the eve of the dress rehearsal and you haven't even thought about costumes! The slightly deranged textiles teacher chips in, providing some zippy leather numbers for Prospera from an, er, extra-curricular production she did a while ago. Whatever else is in the drama cupboard will just have to do for the rest of the cast, and Russell Brand - hell, he can just wear his skinny jeans, as usual (he's basically playing himself, as usual).
At the last minute, another massive oversight dawns on you - you and Jools never did discuss conjuring those special effects. But the reliable old IT technician, who's been trialling some homemade CGI wizardry, is waiting in the wings... At the eleventh hour you get a call from Ben Whishaw's agent, saying he's available to play Ariel, remotely, as a singing gender-bending nymph-sprite that's somewhere between Gollum and Dobby the house-elf, intermittently with breasts. It's crazy enough that it might just work... With that, the curtains go up, you wake up and... No, there you are still, and this sub-panto nightmare really is happening in a cinema near you.
Despite the best efforts of an impressive cast, Taymor's adaptation ends up a curious mix of arse-achingly dull, and clangingly misjudged.
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