Whose new world? Derek Jarman's subversive vision of the tempest (1979)

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Renes, CM 2008, 'Whose new world? Derek Jarman's subversive vision of the tempest (1979)', Barcelona English Language and Literature Studies, vol. 17.

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This paper reassesses Derek Jarman’s film The Tempest (1979) against recent developments in film adaptation theory in order to reach conclusions about its controversial handling of the Shakespearean source material. After locating the film’s lack of general critical acclaim in the practice of fidelity criticism, an overview of film adaptation theory is given, and recent ideas are applied to the film’s content and structure, placing it in the context of British counterculture in the 1970s. Jarman’s Tempest is analysed by discussing the film’s protagonists in terms of gender, considering its director’s choices of characterisation and plot against the backdrop of queer politics. First Miranda’s relationship with Prospero and Ferdinand is placed within a gendered context of geopolitical conflict; next, the characterisation of Caliban as non-racialised, non-threatening and essentially human is seen as the result of Jarman’s queer agenda; finally, Ariel and Caliban are contrasted as conflicting sexual tendencies within Prospero, interiorising the film’s action in his mind as an allegory of the release of homoerotic desire. As a result, Jarman’s rewriting of the original is seen as a subversive deconstruction in service of his gay politics, to be appreciated as an independent piece of art.

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