Directed by Julie Taymor, and adapted (word for word? I couldn’t say) from the play “Titus Andronicus” by one William Shakespeare, Titus is a staggeringly fantastic film adaptation of a story that many label the bard’s most brutal play.
The film revolves, unsurprisingly enough, around Titus (Anthony Hopkins). A loyal soldier, loving father and a proud and honourable man, Titus finds himself at the centre of a very unfortunate series of events that sees his loved ones and his life broken apart one painful piece at a time. There’s some diabolical scheming, debauchery, rape, murder, identity concealment and a dinner menu that you’ll never see on Come Dine With Me – basically, all of the elements contained in any great Shakespearean tragedy plus a whole lot more.
The obvious place to start in singing this film’s praises is with the script, when it comes to wordsmiths then you can’t go to wrong with the most famous writer to have been born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. The wordplay here is up to his usual high standard, full of verbal trickery and intelligent playfulness while also mixing in some fantastic monologues and emotive moments that give the actors plenty to get their teeth into.
The actors, what of them? Hopkins is, as you would expect, fantastic in the lead role but it’s boosted by the fact that every single person onscreen steps up to their very best. Alan Cumming excels as the power-hungry, in need of adoration, Saturninus. Jessica Lange plays the Queen of the Goths Tamora, a POW delivered into the hands of Saturninus by Titus, with relish as she sets plans in motions and whispers her treachery into the ears of those who are all too easily seduced by her words. Harry Lennix, as the black-hearted Aaron, not only does well alongside everyone else but also gets the best monologues, in my view. Angus Macfadyen, Colm Feore, Laura Fraser, James Frain all do fantastic while Matthew Rhys and Jonathan Rhys Meyers get to have the most fun as the diabolical brothers, and sons of Tamora, Demetrius and Chiron.
Julie Taymor’s direction is pretty much faultless. Taking the words of Shakespeare and making them feel fresh and entertaining without dumbing things down too much for the fans of the classic plays is hard work indeed but when done correctly can produce amazing films like this one. There are anachronisms thrown in here and there but I personally felt that these little details both added to the layers of playfulness inherent in much of the dialogue and added a cushioning layer in between the viewer and much of the nastier, and things DO get nasty, content.
Despite the fact that this is a story over 400 years old there are still things here not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. It’s powerful, it’s sometimes even gruelling but it’s also one of the finest dramas adapted from a classic that I’ve seen in a long time. Well worth seeking out.
DIRECTOR: JULIE TAYMOR
CAST: ANTHONY HOPKINS, ALAN CUMMING, JESSICA LANGE, HARRY LENNIX, COLM FEORE, MATTHEW RHYS, JONATHAN RHYS MEYERS, LAURA FRASER, ANGUS MACFADYEN
RUNTIME: 162 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: ITALY, USA, UK