Prospero's Books

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Prospero's Books
Prospero's Books poster.jpg
Theatrical poster.
Directed by Peter Greenaway
Produced by Masato Hara
Kees Kasander
Katsufumi Nakamura
Yoshinobu Namano
Denis Wigman
Roland Wigman
Written by Peter Greenaway
Starring John Gielgud
Michael Clark
Michel Blanc
Erland Josephson
Isabelle Pasco
Mark Rylance
Music by Michael Nyman
Cinematography Sacha Vierny
Edited by Marina Rodbyl
Release dates
30 August 1991 (UK)
Running time
129 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Prospero's Books (1991), written and directed by Peter Greenaway, is a cinematic adaptation of The Tempest, by William Shakespeare. John Gielgud is Prospero, the protagonist who provides the off-screen narration and the voices to the other story characters. Stylistically, Prospero's Books is narratively and cinematically innovative in its techniques, combining mime, dance, opera, and animation. Edited in Japan, the film makes extensive (and pioneering) use of digital image manipulation (using Hi-Vision video inserts and the Paintbox system), often overlaying multiple moving and still pictures with animations. Michael Nyman composed the musical score and Karine Saporta choreographed the dance. The film is also notable for its extensive use of nudity, reminiscent of Renaissance paintings of mythological characters. The nude actors and extras represent a cross-section of male and female humanity.


The daughter of Prospero, an exiled magician, falls in love with the son of his enemy, while the sorcerer's sprite, Ariel, convinces him to abandon revenge against the traitors from his earlier life. In the film, Prospero stands in for Shakespeare, and is seen writing and speaking the story's action as it unfolds. Prospero's Books is a complex tale based upon William Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Ariel is played by four actors — three acrobats: a boy, an adolescent, and a youth, and a boy singer. Each represents a classical elemental.[citation needed] The boy represents water, and is often shown endlessly urinating.


Production and financing[edit]

John Gielgud said a film of The Tempest (as Prospero, as he had been in four stage productions in 1931, 1940, 1957, and 1974) was his life's ambition. He had approached Alain Resnais, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, and Orson Welles about directing him in it, Benjamin Britten to compose its score, and Albert Finney to be Caliban, before Greenaway agreed. The closest the earlier attempts came to being made was in 1967, with Welles as both director and as Caliban to Gielgud's Prospero, but after the commercial failure of Welles and Gielgud's Shakespearean film collaboration, Chimes at Midnight, financing for a cinematic The Tempest collapsed.[1]

The film was screened out of competition at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.[2]


This was the last of the collaborations between director Peter Greenaway and composer Michael Nyman. Most of the film's music cues, (excepting Ariel's songs and the Masque) are from an earlier concert, La Traversée de Paris and the score from A Zed & Two Noughts. The soundtrack album is Nyman's sixteenth release.

Track listing[edit]


Michael Nyman Band[edit]

Prospero's Books
Soundtrack album by Michael Nyman
Released November 12, 1991
Recorded PRT Studios and Abbey Road Studios, London
Genre Soundtrack, Contemporary classical, art song, Minimalist music
Length 54:58
Language English
Label London
Producer David Cunningham
Michael Nyman chronology
String Quartets 1-3
Prospero's Books
The Michael Nyman Songbook
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars link



  1. ^ Sir John Gielgud: A Life in Letters, Arcade Publishing (2004)
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Prospero's Books". Retrieved 2009-08-12. 

External links[edit]