Julie Taymor, 1999.

Prior to studying The Tempest in Year Twelve, my English teacher showed us the first ten minutes of Titus. I was captivated by the child playing at the kitchen table with his toy soldiers; the bold choral, almost fanfare-like music, that heralded the arrival of the army; the soldiers, like full-sized copies of the child’s figurines, clothed in armour and leather, accompanied by motorbikes; the prisoners and spoils of war contained in chariots and carts pulled by horses and tanks; the heightened dance-like movement of the foot soldiers, and the authoritarian address by Titus Andronicus to his people; the way time periods and styles collided against one another with such force that their anachronistic existences were totally justified within the deserted coliseum, the original theatre of cruelty. The rest of the film is nothing short of engrossing, yet also harrowing and exhaustingly exhilarating in a heightened poetic way. Filmed on location in Italy and Croatia, and at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, it mixes time periods like smells in a market place, and concocts the giddiest of pies from its ingredients. Her locations, when coupled with Shakespeare’s text, become metaphors for the psychological worlds of the characters, encapsulating emotional throughlines of scenes, sequences and acts. There is also a frequent and often subtle use of the hand as a visual device – it is both a blackly ironic statement as well as an examination of the nature and politics of power, revenge and violence. Taymor’s ideograph of the hand can be traced in almost every scene – a boy plays at his kitchen table, ripping limbs from his toy soldiers and dousing them in tomato sauce, all in frenetic close-up; senators acknowledge crowds and ask for silence; Basianus holds Lavinia close, out of Saturninus’s reach; Titus fatally stabs his own son; a large stone hand lies crumbling in a public square, its extended finger seeming to grope at the square’s occupants; Titus’ hand is chopped off in a twisted act of salvation; his daughter, Lavinia, is raped and has her hands cut off and replaced by useless twigs; Aaron the Moor protects his infant son from soldiers, cradling him in his arms; Titus breaks Lavinia’s neck with his bare hands in a desperate albeit merciful act towards the film’s conclusion. In its final shot, there is the rarest of rays of hope, as Young Lucius carries Aaron’s infant son from the coliseum, as Elliot Goldenthal’s luscious (and frequently anachronistic) score offers a way out, a way to break the circle of violence and revenge. Granted, it’s not to everyone’s tastes, and many people will disagree with it, but I think it is a tremendously bold, audacious and quite successful rendering of one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays.