Revengers Tragedy

British filmmaker Alex Cox first came across Thomas Middleton’s Jacobean revenge tragedy as a student in 1976, when he was intrigued by its very modern blend of morbid comedy and ultra-violence. His long-planned screen version is steeped in a 1970s anarcho-punk sensibility, with Derek Jarman a striking influence on its satirical and irreverent anachronisms. The timeless themes, the wealth of visual invention and the director’s dedicated admirers should secure the film a cult following.
Set in 2011, the film’s premise is that southern England has been destroyed by a comet, leaving the North ravaged by gang warfare and urban decay. Revengers Tragedy begins with the arrival in Liverpool of a mysterious stranger, Vindici (Christopher Eccleston), whose bride, a flashback reveals, was poisoned on their wedding day ten years earlier. The killer was the degenerate Duke (Derek Jacobi), a Londoner who now rules the city and his five children with an iron hand.
This dynasty is a rum lot. One son is having an affair with the Duke’s wife (Diana Quick). Another rapes a beautiful blonde aristocrat (supermodel Sophie Dahl) whose subsequent death and canonisation invite pointed parallels with Princess Diana. Completing the line-up is the Duke’s spoiled, lascivious heir, Lussurioso (Eddie Izzard). This family is contrasted with Vindici’s own: his brother, a virtuous sister, and their blind mother (Margi Clarke). Vindici himself has embarked on a plan to eliminate the Duke and his clan by ingeniously sadistic methods.
The film looks grungy but distinctive on a tight budget, with an eclectic design dominated by punk and glam-rock laced with historical detail and an emphasis on extravagant make-up. The throbbing score by Chumbawumba ratchets up the general atmosphere of menace.
U.K., 2002. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 112 mins.

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