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cast: Christopher Eccleston, Eddie Izzard, Derek Jacobi, Fraser Ayres, and Sophie Dahl
director: Alex Cox
106 minutes (15) 2002
widescreen ratio 16:9
Prism Leisure DVD Region 2 retail
[released 7 February]
reviewed by Andrew Hook
I've always felt that Alex Cox had a good movie in him just waiting to happen and Revengers
Tragedy may well be it. An adaptation of Thomas Middleton's play from 1607, Cox
deftly updates it to a post-apocalyptic Liverpool retaining the language of the original
play whilst keeping the essence vibrant and eminently watchable.
Christopher Eccleston gives a brilliantly controlled performance as Vindici, a man who
seeks revenge on The Duke (Derek Jacobi) who poisoned Vindici's wife on their wedding
day for failing to succumb to his desires. Eccleston's clarity of purpose, echoed by
his enunciation of the dialogue, runs like a sword through the movie as he subsequently
contrives to gain favour with the Duke's eldest son, Lussurioso (Eddie Izzard), in
order to bring the Duke down.
In addition to the main theme, Lussurioso (and his four brothers) are also individually
plotting to gain greater power, and Vindici has to test the honour of both his sister
and daughter whilst in Lussurioso's employ. These threads are woven well into the story
- whether by Cox or Middleton I'm unsure - and assist in building the film to an effective
climax. Izzard is just about believable in his role, although his 17th century dialogue
comes less naturally to him than the others. Jacobi is appropriately repellent as the
master of all he purveys, with his belief in his ultimate control becoming his downfall.
And mention must also be made of Vindici's brother, Spurio (Fraser Ayres), who grounds
the movie in familial reality - his actions and acting humanising the otherwise affected
The movie looks and feels very much a product of our times. Cox brings a pop sensibility
to his direction, with strange camera angles, negative imagery, and video-billboards all
coming into play. A tad stereotypical of many dystopian futures, most of the characters
are punkette in their clothes and make-up whilst Eccleston's Vindici is unadorned by
such frippery (at the beginning of the movie he is seen shaving his head, thus removing
his pony-tail which would reveal him to his enemies). Occasionally the film is a little
too tongue-in-cheek, occasionally too self-reverential. The final 20 minutes aren't quite
as tight as they could be, but no doubt Cox was equally restricted - as well as inspired
- by his source material.
Much of the power, however, comes from the original dialogue, which, once you get used
to the style, becomes as natural to listen to as subtitles are to watch in world cinema
features. Cox intersperses a few 'fucks' to bring things up to date, and whilst some of
these sit oddly they do often provide intended moments of amusing relief. One scene
between two characters in a bar is performed almost entirely in modern dialogue, and
works well as a comic interlude.
There are some satirical touches that add nicely to the movie. Imogen (Sophie Dhal) is
Princess Diana-esque in her chaste appearance, and when she commits suicide after being
raped by one of the Duke's sons the gates of her palace are laden with flowers. However,
a tournament that takes within a large sporting arena featuring two boxer-types playing
table football does push the boundaries of silliness.
Overall, this is an intelligently written and impressively acted film, which, regardless
of the traditional plot and dialogue, isn't simply an adaptation. Cox updates it sufficiently
to survive as a standalone piece of work.
This version doesn't contain any of the extras that previous issues have included, with
the trailers listed on the DVD being those for other films. This release therefore drops
a point in that regard.