American director Julie Taymor won acclaim for her stage direction of "The Lion King" on Broadway and in London, but this is something else again. Titus is also a play she has directed for the stage and her familiarity with the material is evident, as is her occasionally theatrical style.
But this movie is wonderfully cinematic in other respects and benefits from some mesmerising performances from a cast headed by Anthony Hopkins. The Welsh actor has a famously ambivalent relationship with the Bard, but is quite splendid as the revered Roman general trapped in a cycle of violence and revenge, and unable to comprehend the changing world around him.
Returning from his latest victory on the battlefield, he brings with him prisoners including the Goth Queen Tamora (Lange) and sacrifices her eldest son to appease the Gods. When Saturninus (Cumming) is chosen to be the new Emperor, he takes the scheming Tamora as his bride and Titus Andronicus (Hopkins) suddenly finds himself with a mortal enemy at the highest reaches of power.
And so the blood letting begins, in a brutal carnival of slaughter and petty senseless violence. Anyone criticising the gruesome blood-lust of modern Hollywood might do well to ponder the body count in this play, and while Taymor does not take any kind of fetishistic delight in these scenes they are powerful nonetheless.
Audiences not overly familiar with Titus Andronicus may be surprised and entertained by a grisly tale that seems as relevant now - Taymor makes a definite allusion to contemporary conflicts in the prologue sequence - and is just as telling a depiction of human weakness and wickedness as it must have been when it was first written over four hundred years ago.