Prospero has become one bad mother.
Shakespeare's exiled sorcerer from The Tempest — once an old man stranded on a tropical island, protecting his beautiful daughter — has been recast as a woman for a new film starring Oscar winner Helen Mirren.
The movie, planned for release in December, is from stage and screen director Julie Taymor (Across the Universe, Frida), who previously adapted The Bard in film with 1999's Titus, starring Anthony Hopkins as the bloodthirsty Roman general.
Performed in many ways since the 1590s (including two previous stage versions by Taymor), The Tempest is more than ready for Prospero to become Prospera, she says.
"I wanted to do it because there are actresses like Helen Mirren who never get to play these fantastic parts because they were not written for women," Taymor says. "We changed the role. It's one of the few plays where it not only doesn't hurt the play, but enhances the play."
In the original, Prospero is the Duke of Milan, so preoccupied with his library of magical books that he fails to notice his brother's plot to usurp him. Set adrift at sea with his baby daughter Miranda, he finds himself trapped for years on an island, only to get a chance at revenge years later by stirring a magical storm.
But as Taymor puts it: "If Prospero wasn't paying attention to business, did he deserve to be the duke?"
In the new version, Prospera is more overtly wronged. As the wife of the duke, she is accused of witchcraft after his death by brother Antonio (Chris Cooper), so he can cast her off and claim her title.
"She had her whole life taken away from her because she was a woman," Taymor says. Prospera, a woman scorned, wants to save her daughter from the same fate.
Disney is distributing the film through its Touchstone division, taking over from the now-defunct Miramax.
The film was shot around volcanic areas of Hawaii, and "Prospera is a volcano herself, about to erupt," Taymor says. "And you know Helen Mirren. When she invokes the black powers, she's got the rage. She's got it all."