TITUS, 1999

dir. Julie Taymor

 

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Titus Andronicus : HARDEST. PLAY. EVER. Brutal rape, horrific violence, sickening betrayal and monstrous villains that you are literally wretching to see destroyed. It’s like Spartacus stops for gas in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The story of Titus is infamous for being Shakespeare’s toughest play of the lot (and that’s really saying something). When I saw there was a film of this, I said to myself “That’s pretty cool. Should be good fun…” That was before I endured it. Now having seen it I can safely affirm that few movies in the world will make you squirm, shout, scream, spit at the screen in anger and by the end of the film have turned you into the cackling demonic avenger that this one will. Seriously, you’ve never seen anything like it. This is a revenge story that makes The Count of Monte Christo look like Home Alone. In fact, you need to have a strong stomach for this film. Not everyone will enjoy it as it is a pretty gruelling experience. So, why on earth should you watch it?

 

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Anthony Hopkins needs no props from me; he is one of the few mainstream actors who seem to really know what it means to be dead inside, who can actually conjure the genuine coldness of a world weary warrior into his eyes. So he takes care of Titus, batttle-hardened General of Rome. But it’s the grotesque Queen Tamora who truly steals away the show for me; Jessica Lange (Big Fish, Cape Fear) is one of these great actresses who is beautiful, yes, but also captivating in her own right, in her mannerisms, her moods, her crooked smiles and tearful frowns. As the truly inner-ugliness of her character emerges, we become more and more repulsed by her, even afraid of her. Tamora’s sons are equally vile; Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (Star of television show ‘The Tudors’, Gormenghast, Mission Impossible 3, Match Point) plus Matthew Rhys (Death Watch, Shooters) does for this what Joaquin Pheonix did for Gladiator i.e. you catch yourself begging the heavens you get to see them die screaming. Alan Cumming (X-Men 2, Goldeneye) also makes for an excellent Emperor Saturninus the spoilt, whiny, tantrum thrower.

 

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This is how the film should be watched; get as many people in one room as possible, turn down the lights, blaze it up and watch your living room full of friends turn into a rowdy mob of spectators, cheering and gasping and stamping their feet and shaking their fists. That is why it deserves five stars; Julie Taymor (the director) didn’t just ‘bring Shakespeare to life’ or ‘make it accessible to the modern audience’ – she did exactly what .44 CALIBRE is all about; she loads up the Muse’s fyah, turns off the safety, cocks the Hollywood canon and empties the whole clip.

 

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But for all the sterling performances by English national treasures that have earned this movie it’s well-deserved five stars, it’s American Harry Lennix (The Matrix parts 2 & 3, Ray, Dollhouse) who takes 16th century theatre and turns into new millennium swagger in his captivating portrayal of husky-voiced Aaron. He’s not the main character and is probably on the screen for only about half an hour in total. But when he’s doing this speech at the end – wow. Perfect Shakespeare. I hope I catch him being Othello one day. In fact, I would travel far for it.

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