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Fantoma Films presents

Revengers Tragedy (2003)

"Oh, more uncivil...more unnatural, than those base-titled creatures that look downward! Why does not heaven turn black, or with a frown undo the world? Why does not Earth strike at the sins that tread on it? Oh, wer't not for gold and women, there would be no damnation. But 'twas decree'd before the world began that they shall be the hooks to catch a man."- Vindici (Christopher Eccleston)

Stars: Christopher Eccleston, Eddie Izzard
Other Stars: Carla Henry, Derek Jacobi, Paul Reynolds, Andrew Schofield, Margi Clarke, Antony Booth
Director: Alex Cox

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, language, sexuality, a scene of incest)
Run Time: 01h:49m:29s
Release Date: 2004-07-20
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

During the 17th century, English literature took an almost obsessive liking to revenge. Revenge plays were all the rage and, to this day, people study the masterpiece of this genre, Shakespeare's Hamlet, with perhaps more vigor than Elizabethan audiences in his day. After the Bard passed away, the Jacobean playwrights took the stage, with the most notable being Thomas Middleton. It is Middleton's Revengers Tragedy, which until recently was thought to have been the work of another writer, that is the subject of director Alex Cox's most recent film.

The title certainly contains no subtleties and the motivations of the main character, Vindici (Christopher Eccleston), are not subject to the same ambiguity of that famed Danish prince. Frank Cottrell Boyce has adapted Revengers Tragedy and moved the location from Tuscany to Liverpool, setting the story after an unexplained apocalypse, in the year 2012. Unlike Julie Taymor's Titus, which blends ancient Rome with an unknown future, Cox's film fully embraces the new setting of the story. The word "surreal" is a tempting description of the production design, makeup, and costumes; however, the rugged documentary camerawork runs contrary to such a depiction, lending the visual style and storytelling an absurd quality.

It has been ten years since the murder of Vindici's wife by the evil Duke (an almost unrecognizable Derek Jacobi), but now he has returned to exact his revenge. Upon returning to Liverpool, which is plagued with dead bodies—as well as characters with Italian names—Vindici enlists the help of his brother, Carlo (Andrew Schofield), to kill the Duke. After one of the Duke's younger sons, Junior (Paul Reynolds), attacks the beautiful wife of the Duke's rival, Lord Antonio (Antony Booth), Vindici makes his move. He advances on the Duke's heir, the vile and adolescent Lussurioso (Eddie Izzard), to form a friendship. Playing on Lussurioso's desire for power, Vindici sets a trap for the Duke and all who fall in his way. Everything works well for Vindici and Carlo, until Lussurioso unexpectedly plans on raping their sister—the chaste Castiza (Carla Henry).

Further plot analysis will spoil the intricacies of this well-crafted and meaningful thriller. Fans of Hamlet will find many parallels here, such as talking to a skull, a funeral scene containing mistaken identity, and incestuous sheets in the house of power. The primary difference between the two stories is the main character. Vindici, at least according to Eccleston's infectious and commanding performance, is truly mad with rage and borders on insanity. There is no sense of moral fortitude in Vindici's cause, which makes it all the more tragic. Rather, the film and Eccleston's performance illustrate how atrocious revenge is as it rots the will of all the characters.

Eccleston is supported well by his fellow actors. Jacobi vividly conveys the conniving Duke with the precious moments he has on screen. Izzard's Lussurioso is a worthy villain to Vindici, complete with greed and insecurities. It would be easy for Izzard to play his part in a campy, self-reflexive manner, but he correctly treats Lussurioso with respect and gravity. Every actor, particularly the leads and Carla Henry, does an amazing with the Jacobean (or, as Americans will call it, Shakespearean) dialect. Accentuating the performances is the musical score by Chumbawamba. Combining classical scoring elements with a techno beat perfectly captures the perverse world of this post-apocalyptic Liverpool. It also is a fitting compliment to Len Gowing's cinematography, which combines 35mm film with Super-16 and DV processes.

Ultimately the success of the film must be given to Alex Cox, just as the success of the play must be given to Middleton. Alex Cox's career is drenched in the subversive, and it is fitting for him to take on a project that stems from a play so controversial its author would choose not to receive credit. The story is timeless and Cox's film has breathed new life into a play that many are unfamiliar with, which in and of itself is something deserving of compliment; the fact that this film stands on its own, delivering poignant messages for modern audiences, is even more impressive. Revenge may end in tragedy for these characters, but it is a rewarding experience for the audience.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Shot on a variety of formats, Revengers Tragedy is presented here in an anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen RSDL transfer. Detail is strong, with colors, especially reds, looking vivid. Contrast is solid, with impressive blacks and no edge enhancement. Mosquito noise and grain are nonexistent, but there is no real sense of depth in the image. The disparity between the formats is somewhat noticeable, especially in the flashback scenes shot on 35mm, but it is part of the Cox's grand design.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, Revengers Tragedy is a robust, though flawed, listening experience. The score and sound effects sound fantastic, with a great deal of sound separation across all the speakers. Bass is strong, especially during the large crowd scenes. The surround speakers are active during much of the film's running time, so home theater enthusiasts will enjoy that aspect of the mix. Unfortunately the dialogue, primarily permeating from the center speaker, is under mixed, which only accentuates the language barrier for careless viewers. Ambience is well handled, creating a pleasing experience overall.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Alex Cox, Eddie Izzard
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:10m:25s

Extra Extras:
  1. Insert—contains excerpts from Alex Cox's directing diary.
  2. Cannes Promo 2001—a brief trailer that was shown to financers to gain support for the film.
  3. Gallery of Production Art, Storyboards, and Stills—a slideshow of behind-the-scenes still photographs, storyboards, and conceptual art.
Extras Review: Fantoma has supplied a worthy dose of extras for this release. First is a collectible insert with excerpts from Alex Cox's director's diary and stills from the film. There is a feature-length audio commentary by Cox and Eddie Izzard. Izzard's comments are sparse, offering only a few anecdotes and observations. However, Cox gives a great deal of information about the making of the film and his intentions. One noteworthy exchange between the two men is about the Film Council's request for a graphic rape scene, which Cox (thankfully) refused. This commentary is not a standout track, but there's a refreshing sense of humor present in Cox's remarks.

The Revengers: The Making of Revengers Tragedy (28m:18s) contains interviews with Cox, producer Tod Davies, screenwriter Boyce, and most of the major cast and crew members. Some behind-the-scenes footage is included, but this documentary is primarily a nice compilation of interviews interspliced with clips from the film and one interesting portion does contain candid footage of the cutting room decisions.

In addition to the documentary are four featurettes. The Don (14m:01s) is an interview with Oxford professor and Jacobean expert, John Pitcher. He is also featured in the documentary (some of the comments here overlap what he says there), which makes this featurette pointless. It is overly long and contains no conclusions that are not already divulged in the documentary. The next featurette is The Stuntman (02m:11s), an interview with stunt coordinator Ray Nicholas. Since stuntmen don't get much attention, the information here will be fresh and interesting to most people. The Actor (02m:06s) is the third featurette in name only, because it is really just a montage of outtakes from Antony Booth's interview for the documentary. The final featurette is The Diva and the Duke (01m:51s), featuring some behind-the-scenes footage of the costume fitting and makeup application for Antony Booth and his screen wife, Sophie Dahl.

There also is a deleted scene (02m:33s) between Castiza and her mother that was wisely cut, for pacing purposes, from the final film. It is presented here in 1.78:1 nonanamorphic widescreen and Dolby stereo 2.0 sound. There is also a Cannes Promo 2001 (02m:11s) "trailer" that was made to drum up financial support for the film. In fact, this trailer is the opening scene of the film (short for shot). Finally, there is a gallery of storyboards, production stills, and conceptual art.

Overall, Fantoma has provided a nice collection of extras.

Extras Grade: B

Final Comments

With Revengers Tragedy, Alex Cox once again shows that he is among the most overlooked directors working currently. The acting and filmmaking make for an entertaining and meaningful telling of Thomas Middleton's classic tale. This DVD from Fantoma is a very fine introduction of the film to American audiences, with a solid transfer and good sound. Adding a collection of fine extras makes this DVD a good deal for the avant-garde viewer.

Nate Meyers 2004-07-20