PROSPERO’S BOOKS
1991, Park Circus/Miramax, 124 min, UK/Netherlands/France, Dir: Peter Greenaway

This highly imaginative retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest stars John Gielgud, here realizing a lifelong ambition to portray Prospero on screen. A magician in exile, he is eager to exact revenge against his enemies until his daughter (Isabelle Pasco) falls in love with his chief rival’s son (Mark Rylance). With its remarkably innovative use of choreography (to a Michael Nyman score), animation and digitally manipulated imagery, Greenaway’s riff on the classic play is among his most dazzlingly visual films.


SECRET AGENT
1936, BFI, 86 min, UK, Dir: Alfred Hitchcock

Based on stories by W. Somerset Maugham, this espionage tale stars John Gielgud as Richard Ashenden, a British officer dispatched to Switzerland to kill a German spy. Sent to assist him on the mission are seasoned assassin (and scene-stealer) Peter Lorre and Madeleine Carroll, who is posing as Ashenden’s wife – which does little to stop suave Robert Young from chasing her. With several years of sound filmmaking under his belt, Hitchcock makes brilliant use of such audio effects as a sustained organ note and a dog’s howl.


BECKET
1964, Paramount, 148 min, UK/USA, Dir: Peter Glenville

Peter O’Toole’s first turn as Henry II sees the king immersed in a complicated friendship with the Archbishop of Canterbury (Richard Burton). This exquisitely mounted historical drama earned a dozen Oscar nominations, including a win for Edward Anhalt’s adapted screenplay. With John Gielgud.


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