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Prospero's Books

Where to Watch Prospero's Books


Prospero's Books, a unique and visually stunning film creation from 1991, is an interpretation of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” - a play about magic, betrayal, and forgiveness. This cinematic marvel marries the brilliance of Peter Greenaway, the notable British director, and the incredible acting talent of John Gielgud in the lead role as Prospero. The movie also sees performances from Michael Clark and Michel Blanc, each contributing to the intriguing filmic tapestry. Breaking the traditional mould of movie storytelling, Prospero’s Books offers an ingenious fusion of multiple art forms, including literature, dance, painting, acting, and film.

The essence of the film revolves around Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan who, after being usurped by his own brother Antonio, is set adrift at sea with his daughter, Miranda. They wash up on a mysterious, uncharted island which becomes their home and Prospero's dominion. Artful use of magical realism is noticeably employed throughout the narrative as the island is filled with ethereal spirits and fantastical creatures. Prospero, using the spells from his numerous books, exerts his command over these beings and shapes the world around him.

Prospero's Books begins with an aging Prospero looking back at his life, where he reflects upon his time on the enigmatic, enchanted island to which he was exiled. The 24 books that he managed to salvage during his ousting from Milan have not only served as his comfort but also his power, arming him with magic and knowledge to rule over the island. Each volume embodies a particular arc of knowledge, and Prospero--through Gielgud's majestic voice-over performance--narrates credible and elaborate details from each book, thereby forming the basis for the various subplots within the movie.

John Gielgud's performance is extraordinary and holds the film together, providing it with an almost Shakespearean theatre-like appeal. Being the only voice in the film, Gielgud carefully articulates the complexities of each character's lines with a myriad of vocal dynamics. In doing so, he vividly brings to life the essence of every character from Shakespeare’s play. He proposes a fascinating dialogue with himself, essentially allowing him to become all the souls enshrined within the Shakespearean narrative and further accentuates the idea of Prospero as the omnipresent and omnipotent being of the island.

The gravity of Greenaway’s cinematographic mastery is eloquently expressed in every frame of Prospero's Books. The tour de force of detailed theatrical sets, Baroque-inspired artistry, surreal choreographed sequences, and splendid nude tableaux vivants indeed captivate the audience. Choreographer Michael Clark contributes to these sequences, presenting a richly detailed balletic performance. These visually captivating sequences are enhanced by bright, saturated palettes, ornate costumes, and the bold suit of special effects, turning each scene into a moving painting.

Another layer to the immersive experience of the movie is the musical score, composed by Michael Nyman. The enchanting music artfully complements the visual banquet, helping to set the stage for each scene as it unfolds. At times stirring and at others calm, it perfectly captures and emphasises the arc of Prospero's journey and the narrative itself.

However, it is essential to highlight that Prospero’s Books is not a traditional narrative film but rather an experimental exploration of art forms. Greenaway reinvents and reinterprets the Bard's last play by conceiving a movie that has a Shakespearean script but is fortified with elements from contemporary cinema. The movie is a rich tapestry of expression—the hauntingly beautiful special effects merging seamlessly with an oft-times nonlinear plot. Prospero's Books certainly demand an open mind from its viewers, inviting them to lose themselves in the artistic and intellectual mazes within the film.

In conclusion, Prospero's Books is a visually stunning, enigmatic, thought-provoking, and multilayered cinematic endeavour that belongs to a category of film art that invites interpretation rather than a mere viewing. The film might be a perplexing and challenging watch for some, but it is also rewarding in ways only a deftly crafted piece of art can be. The film engages the senses and intellect, pushing the boundaries of traditional cinema to offer a unique film-watching experience that is nothing short of a magical journey within the folds of Shakespeare’s final play. With its sensory overload of stunning visuals, theatrical dialogue, evocative music and intricate choreography, Prospero's Books is a daring and remarkable cinematic voyage not to be missed by the lovers of both cinema and literature.

Prospero's Books is a Fantasy movie released in 1991. It has a runtime of 129 minutes. Critics and viewers have rated it moderate reviews, with an IMDb score of 6.8..

How to Watch Prospero's Books

Where can I stream Prospero's Books movie online? Prospero's Books is available to watch and stream, buy on demand, download at Apple TV, Amazon, Vudu. Some platforms allow you to rent Prospero's Books for a limited time or purchase the movie for downloading.

Peter Greenaway
John Gielgud, Michael Clark, Michel Blanc, Erl, Josephson, Isabelle Pasco, Mark Rylance
Also starring John Gielgud
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