A loose, multi-layered deconstruction of Shakespeare's final play by Peter Greenaway, enfant terrible of the British art-house scene. Beginning with its opening sequence of a urinating angel, PROSPERO'S BOOKS is a remarkable celebration of naked excess. Penises, especially, proliferate
like so many pairs of socks dangling from a clothesline. It's Shakespeare's work, though certainly not as originally envisioned. The 86-year-old Gielgud gives an undeniably virtuoso performance as a most regal Prospero, master manipulator of people and events. Gielgud functions as a sort of
onscreen chorus--an intermediary between the action and audience to give form and fabric to the film. Throughout, he also portrays the Bard who, like the veteran actor himself, is nearing the end of his long career. In a triple conceit of Greenaway's, we see Gielgud-Shakespeare-Prospero writing
the play in elegant Elizabethan script. Concurrently, he conjures onscreen the images and characters he has just created on paper and recites all their dialogue. Their voices are dimly overlaid with his, as if by echo. Only at the film's very end, when Prospero has given up all thoughts of revenge
and reconciled with his enemies, are the other characters allowed to speak for themselves in their own voices.
Gielgud breathes life into a difficult role and makes it look natural and easy. Richly garbed in embroidered cowl and cloak, looking like a cross between a Venetian doge and Dame Edith Sitwell, it's as if he were born to it. It was at Gielgud's suggestion that Greenaway undertook the project,
designing the film for him in that role. Does it work? That depends on whether you find Greenaway's elaborate visual conceits and rarified narrative structures daring and liberating, or boringly self-indulgent.
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: A loose, multi-layered deconstruction of Shakespeare's final play by Peter Greenaway, enfant terrible of the British art-house scene. Beginning with its opening sequence of a urinating angel, PROSPERO'S BOOKS is a remarkable celebration of naked excess. Pe… (more)