The star of the piece though, is Miranda. Played with panache by Toyah Willcox, that wild child of the punk era...

"Full of magic and surprises...the most truly spectacular British film in years." -- The Times

The Tempest, the last of William Shakespeare's great plays, was adapted for the screen for the first time by Derek Jarman in 1979. 

Shot on location at the ancient and ghostly Stoneleigh Abbey, The Tempest tells the story of Prospero the magician, who lives with his nubile daughter on an enchanted island and punishes his enemies when they are shipwrecked there. It's a study of sexual and political powere in the guise of a fairy tale. 

Jarman presents Shakespeare's intricate comedy of magic and revenge in a form that is at once faithful to the spirit of the play and an original and dazzling spectacle mixing Hollywood pastiche, high camp, and gothic horror. His film recalls the innocent homoeroticism of Pasolini's versions of classics, while its lush sense of décor and color is worthy of Minnelli. 

The film's master stroke is the finale, a wedding feast designed and choreographed as as full scale production number, with the veteran black comedy musical star Elisabeth Welch wafting her way through a chorus of hunky sailors as she belts out "Stormy Weather." It's one of the great scenes in British cinema. 


Toyah plays Miranda, the daughter of Prospero, in her 4th film role, and the 2nd to be directed by Derek Jarman

"The star of the piece though, is Miranda. Played with panache by Toyah Willcox, that wild child of the punk era, she wanders the halls of Prospero's fortress, outrageously costumed in a stunning combination of period and punk tatters as she draws strangers into her home while longing for freedom. A far cry from the chaste and maidenly girl of Shakespeare's original, this Miranda is a feisty, buxom, sexual young woman who, instead of Prospero, herself appears to be the magician at the heart of the tempest."

-- Channel 4 Films.


T IS FOR...THE TEMPEST. "As you from crimes would pardoned be/Let your indulgence set me free." Shakespeare's masterpiece has held an almost mystical fascination for British film-makers: Michael Powell long harboured a dream to make it with James Mason; Peter Greenaway cast John Gielgud in his massive, mannered alchemical 1991 reading. Jarman had himself broached the subject with Gielgud in the 70s, but finally cast poet/performer Heathcote Williams as the rather bedraggled, frock-coated vengeful exile on his magic isle, and Toyah Wilcox as his ethereal daughter Miranda, which prompted more than one to call this a Punk reading of the play. 

The film was shot entirely on location at Stoneleigh Abbey (where the play was once performed for Elizabeth, the Winter Queen, in 1612) for a mere £150,000. "The endless corridors and lots of rooms...suggested servants, romantic scholars with opium pipes, young girls with dresses spun from gossamer and frosted with shells and feathers. By the time filming was commenced, on February 14 (1979), we were living in another world. The cameras began to turn with the house in darkness, its shutters closed against the blizzards outside." 

Unlike Greenaway's pyrotechnic but ultimately faithful interpretation, Jarman's Tempest opts for a dream format, allowing the director to dissect the text at will: "I cut away the dead wood (particularly the comedy) so that the great speeches were concertinaed. Then the play was rearranged and opened up: the theatrical magic had to be replaced." What it is replaced with is a genuine magic. 

In the same way Greenaway makes the island central to his concept, so Jarman makes the house a character in his, gathering shadows and occult symbolism to often quite startling effect, so that for much of its run his film is a surreal, claustrophobic and almost frightening confection. But brilliantly, the finale overthrows the dark horror and unease in favour of the transcendent magic of which Greenaway falls short, topped off by the arrival of the sublime veteran jazz singer Elizabeth Welch to croon 'Stormy Weather' and the little sailor boys dancing. 

"The Tempest obsesses me. I would like to make it again, would be happy to make it three times."

Taken from: 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow': An A to Z of Derek Jarman, by Gerald Houghton (1993).


Toyah on... The Tempest, and Miranda

"Filming The Tempest was an absolute joy. Derek had evolved from an experimaental film-maker into a serious director; everyone looked upon him as a god. He was always the driving force. He was always an inspiration to be with, never lacking in energy and never lacking in ideas, always totally focused. And as he promised, before I shot any scene, he'd sit with me and go through the dialogue word by word. He'd give me Shakespeare's intended meaning but he'd also give me the freedom - and the confidence - to reinterpret it.

My performance energy had to be much more contained to play Miranda; even though she is a wild child, she is nothing like Mad in Jubilee. This is a woman born of royalty, but who has never tasted royalty. She has no concept of male or female, no concept of sex, but at the same time she is hugely voluptuous, sensual and desperate to experience some form of touch.  But there is no one around to touch. Then a Prince is shipwrecked on the shore. And very quickly and very beautifully, Miranda goes from being  a bug to becoming a butterfly. It was virtually impossible not to play Miranda as a magical creature. The surroundings of Stoneleigh Abbey exuded a strange energy; you felt surrounded by spirits of the past. And Derek had turned it into an even more magical place, full of colour, beauty and diversity."

Taken from: 'Living Out Loud', by Toyah Willcox (2000).


The Tempest by Julian Upton

Touching the outer parameters of mainstream cinema, The Tempest (1979) followed Sebastiane (1976) and Jubilee (1978) to form the last in a trio of films that established Derek Jarman as the most innovative British director of the late seventies. The Tempest sees Jarman deliberately subvert the narrative and visual conventions of ‘the period film’ and guide Shakespeare’s echoey text through an eerie carnival of camp and claustrophobia, punctuating the proceedings with unhinged turns from vaguely familiar faces (Jack Birkett, Toyah Willcox and Christopher Biggins, no less!) And by exposing the play – albeit subtly – to the homoeroticism of Sebastiane and the brutal frankness of Jubilee, Jarman creates an adaptation that belongs to him much more than it does to the Bard. The emphasis on wild anachronisms – always bold and inventive - prefigures similar, more commercial efforts by Baz Lurhmann, Kenneth Branagh et al by nearly two decades. And although the miniscule budget shows, it does not hamper the enterprise – Jarman seems to be the only British director of the time prepared to paint with darkness and shadow as much as with light. 

The Tempest’s outrageous finale is its most talked about and most artistically ‘troubling’ scene. You can judge its success for yourself, but it clearly presents the most striking evidence that the director was tiring of obeying the rules of classical cinema. It is significant, then, that The Tempest was Jarman’s last theatrically-released feature for over six years. 

Jarman resumed painting, designing and creating personal work through alternative media. By the time he returned to a more sustained programme of film-making in the mid-eighties, he was suffering from the onset of AIDS. Ironically, it was the knowledge of this condition resulted in a newly energised body of work, and from this point on Jarman eschewed the dramatic consistency – albeit wildly eclectic – of his first three films. The Last of England (1987), then, is perhaps the most ambitious expression of the director’s later obsessions and preoccupations. Refusing to reward the viewer on a narrative level, The Last of England serves instead as a fractured tapestry of personal themes and downbeat polemic. By now, Jarman was a celebrated auteur - Sebastiane, Jubilee and The Tempest had all received respectful airings on British television – and he was in a position to indulge himself as ‘an experimenter of form’. Consequently, The Last of England unleashes a jarring kaleidoscope of – in turns – striking and soporific images: personal moments captured on bold Super 8; discoloured montages of a nation in decline; slow, sustained passages of gay lovemaking. Whether this is engaging depends on your opinion of Jarman as a cultural force; certainly, it forms a powerful personal expression, and is a clearly a visual descendant of the earlier works. But where The Tempest can be enjoyed, The Last of England must be endured. Ultimately, Jarman didn’t want us to have it easy.


Heathcote Williams as Prospero, Right Duke of Milan
Toyah Willcox as Miranda, his daughter
Richard Warwick as Antonio, his brother
Peter Bull as Alonso, the King of Naples
David Meyer as Ferdinand, his son
Neil Cunningham as Sebastian, his brother
Ken Campbell as Gonzalo, an honest councillor
Karl Johnson as Ariel, an airy spirit
Jack Birkett as Caliban, a savage and deformed slave
Christopher Biggins as Stephano, a drunken mariner
Peter Turner as Trinculo, his friend
Elisabeth Welch as A Goddess
Directed by Derek Jarman
Adapted for the screen by Jarman, from William Shakespeare's play
Produced by Don Boyd, Guy Ford & Mordecai Schreiber
Cinematography by Peter Middleton
Production Design by Yolanda Sonnabend
Art Direction by Ian Whittaker
Sound Editor Sarah Vickers
Edited by Lesley Walker
Original Music by Brian Hodgson & John Lewis


The Tempest - Did You Know?

The Tempest has been released several times on VHS over the years. As well as seperate US, Japanese, and the recently released UK DVD versions. On all, but one, Toyah has been the main cover star. Sadly, most are now out of print.

Toyah was nominated as BEST NEWCOMER at the 1980 'Evening Standard Film Awards' for her role as Miranda.

This, despite the fact that this was her fourth film role, following Mad in Jubilee, Bessie Wattie in The Corn Is Green and Monkey in Quadrophenia.

Toyah had a strong dislike of anything Shakespeare until she was asked to be part of this production.

Christopher Biggins, who plays Stephano in The Tempest (and also starred alongside Toyah in the 'Find The Lady' episode of Shoestring) had previously appeared in one of Toyah's favourite films; The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

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