Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

Titus Andronicus (Anthony Hopkins) returns to Rome victorious, the Goth queen Tamora (Jessica Lange) and her three sons his prisoners. Titus executes Tamora's eldest son, starting the juggernaut of revenge in motion.

Titus is the people's choice as emperor, but he declines allowing Saturninus to take the throne. Saturninus wants Titus's daughter Lavinia to be his bride, but she prefers Bassianus, Saturninus's rival to the throne. Surprisingly, Saturninus then makes Tamora his queen, giving her a position of power from which to plot her revenge on Titus...

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Where Shakespeare's comedies end up with almost everyone paired off, his tragedies end with almost all dead. Titus Andronicus is a tragedy, serving up a blood and thunder mix of rape, mutilation, murder and cannibalism for our entertainment.

Watching it I couldn't help but be reminded of Wes Craven's "video nasty" Last House On The Left. Both are revenge dramas, with equally extreme violence. Yet Last House is banned, while Shakespeare holds a revered position in our culture in spite of the fact that the DWEM's work is also riddled with instances of sexism and racism (here it's the evil Moor Aaron - as is so often the case Shakespeare's villains are the most interesting).

This rant about our moral guardians' double standards when it comes to "high" and "low" culture, on with the review...

Titus is the film debut from Julie Traynor, though she had earlier directed the same play on stage. Like Romeo and Juliet and Richard III, the film updates the setting. Unfortunately, while its combination of Ancient Rome, fascist kitsch and Mad Max-style post-apocalypse Rome 2033 suggests the timelessness of the piece, it never gels into a coherent whole.

With Alan Cumming's Saturninus looking like a cross between Hitler and a 1980s New Romantic, and the Goths - all peroxide, furs, leathers, gold lame and tribal tattoos - reminding one of refugees from a glam rock band, the film is often campy and silly when it ought to be horrifying.

Though mention is made of the "Matrix-style shots of actors frozen in mid-air", don't expect an FX-fest. There is precisely one scene of this nature, at the very end of the film, and it's nothing spectacular.

Though the film had its moments - mostly in the deliciously playful nature of Shakespeare's dialogue - it's hard to see it matching the success of other recent adaptations of the Bard. For the schoolkids it lacks the name recognition, the attractive young stars or the cool soundtrack (most of the music is discordant and martial-sounding) of a Romeo + Juliet. And though horror fans might lap up the violent incidents, they'll probably find it too long and talky otherwise.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Modern reworking of Shakespeare's revenge tragedy.
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Angus Wolfe Murray **

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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