- Associated Press - Saturday, September 11, 2010

VENICE, ITALY (AP) - Julie Taymor’s interpretation of “The Tempest” is a gender-flipped fantasy film, with Helen Mirren playing the lead in the take on the William Shakespeare classic.

The film was unveiled out of competition Saturday in the final hours of the Venice Film Festival, which was awarding its top Golden Lion prize in a gala evening ceremony.

Taymor switches the sex of the traditionally male sorcerer role, Prospero, to a female sorceress, Prospera, for the Oscar-winning Mirren.

The director called Shakespeare’s last play the Bard’s “most visual,” lending itself to adaptation on the big screen. Taymor also has adapted Shakespeare’s “Titus” for film.

Mirren said it was her love of Shakespeare that drew her to acting.

“I never wanted to be a movie star or on TV, I wanted to be a classical Shakespearean actress,” she told reporters.

She recalled how while she was watching the play in a theater a few years ago, “I thought this could be played as a woman without changing dialogue, and very few of (Shakespeare’s) plays allow for that.

“Then a year or two later Julie and I met.”

The two decided to work together and when Taymor asked her what role she’d like to play, Mirren told her Prospero, and the director replied that she always thought the role could be played by a woman.

“I let my instinct take over and I knew I was with a great, great visionary director and could just go with the flow,” the actress said.

The film features the original score of Oscar-winning composer Elliot Goldenthal, which at times was tinged with rock and roll, enriches the film. It also includes performances by Oscar-winner Chris Cooper and Oscar nominees Tom Conti and David Strathairn.

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