There are three things to admire in Julie Taymor’s adaptation of The Tempest: its location, its Caliban, and its Prospero. The location is in reality Anaeho’omalu Bay in Hawaii, Caliban is in reality Djimon Hounsou, and Prospero is in reality Helen Mirren. Hawaii has, of course, a colonial history with Britain and the United States of America, which fully absorbed Hawaii into its union of states in the middle of the 20th century. Hounsou is from a country, Benin, in a region of Africa that was once called the Slave Coast. Helen Mirren is British and famous for playing the Queen of England in Stephen Frears’s The Queen (also, Meryl Streep called Mirren “an acting God”). Mirren is a symbol of British beauty and enlightenment (she is very much a liberated woman—watch Caligula or The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover), which makes her perfect for the role of the man of science, Prospero.

What all of this means (Hawaii, Hounsou, Mirren) is the director, Taymor, placed the long-recognized theme of colonialism at the very front of her adaptation. A director can locate this theme in the back or the middle of the play and focus on other (unworthy) things: court politics, the loneliness of Prospero, the youth of romance, the magic, the music, the existentialism, the fact that The Tempest is Shakespeare’s last play. Taymor does have a lot of magic and music in her film (she is, after all, the mind behind the flashy Broadway version of The Lion King), but these do not overwhelm or diminish the presence of the colonial theme. And what a presence it has! Because Caliban is a big black African, this theme is right where it should be—right in front of your face. recommended