Prospero was Sir John Gielgud's favorite stage role and he had attempted to mount a movie of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" for decades, contacting Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, and Ingmar Bergman about directing, and Welles and Albert Finney about playing Caliban. The version with Welles directing and playing Caliban was in preparation until the financial failure of Welles' and Gielgud's movie of Falstaff (1966) forced the project to fall through, where it laid dormant until Gielgud finally convinced Peter Greenaway to make this version.

Prospero's "poor cell" is based on a painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Antonello da Messina called "St. Jerome in His Study" (1460-1475).

The idea of Prospero's library including twenty-four books was based on the famous saying by Jean-Luc Godard that "cinema is truth twenty-four times a second".

In the horizontal tracking shot that follows Prospero as he makes his way through the island, the various figures behind the opening credits are based on their allegorical association with water (as this is an adaptation of "The Tempest"). Director Peter Greenaway has confirmed that there are actually one hundred figures of Biblical, mythological, and historical relevance. The theme is further explored in another short program made for television by Greenaway called A Walk Through Prospero's Library (1991).

Some of the "animated" books include images from (or allusions to) Eadweard Muybridge's motion studies, specifically from his eleven-volume study "Animal Locomotion (1885)", featuring his galloping horse, running bison, and studies of walking, jumping, and throwing.

One of the first movies to use HDTV technology. This movie specifically utilized an early analogue high-definition process called "Hi-Vision", developed by the Japanese group NHK.

"The Book of Motion" notably features Caliban (Michael Clark), Prospero's (Sir John Gielgud's) main antagonist on the island.

All of the credits (right down to the copyright warnings) are shown at the beginning of the movie.