Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Fooling around with the Bard can be an exhilerating experience - remember Richard III, with Ian McKellen?

Julie Taymor's background is dance, opera, experimental theatre and, most famously, the stage version of The Lion King.

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Titus is her first full-length (two-and-a-half hours plus) movie. Although shot amongst the ruins of Rome, she ignores the tradition of modern dress adaptations by mixing the old and new worlds in a haphazard manner, so that motorcycles and chariots share the same road space, a newspaper headline splashes The Death Of Caesar, a swing band plays at the Emperor's orgy, people smoke cigarettes, shoot pool, use handguns as well as swords and happen upon a Bengal tiger in the forest while hunting deer.

At first, this looks like fun until the absence of consistency seems ever more self-indulgent. The plot is outrageous enough anyway without introducing pop video techniques to appeal to the teen crowd.

Titus (Anthony Hopkins) is an ageing general who returns to Italy after a successful campaign. Emperor Saturninus (Alan Cumming) basks in the opulence of his crowning ceremony and takes the captured Tamora (Jessica Lange), Queen of the Goths, as his bride. The screen is set for torture, rape, mutilation and bloody vengeance.

You are never far from death. Taymor relishes violence and, unlike Peter Greenaway who has made his own Shakespearean nonsense in the past, is not designer-led. She likes style for its own sake and black humour, which, more often than not, involves intestines and cannabalism.

If the look of the film is a mishmash and the text has been ransacked for juicy morsels ("The goddess of justice has left the earth"), the casting feels surprisingly conventional. Cumming is never going to be allowed to forget his Broadway triumph as the MC in Cabaret. Here he comes again, prancing and mincing, made up to the nines like a transvestite at a Third Reich revivalist night.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers, as one of Tamora's wicked sons, is doing his Velvet Goldmine star act and Hopkins could have walked off the King Lear stage, still speaking the verse beautifully. Lange retains her North American accent and dresses in outfits that would amuse Vivienne Westwood. She might be rehearsing Lady Macbeth for The Alternative Miss World floor show, except quite suddenly, without the hint of a bump, Tamora gives birth to a black baby.

That's Shakespeare for you. So modern, he doesn't need references to 21st century junk culture to make Roman atrocities relevant.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Modern reworking of Shakespeare's revenge tragedy.
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Keith Hennessey Brown **1/2

Director: Julie Traynor

Writer: Julie Taymor, based on Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, James Frain, Angus Macfadyen, Matthew Ryhs, Alan Cumming, Laura Fraser

Year: 1999

Runtime: 157 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: USA


EIFF 2000

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