Color, 2002, 106m. / Directed by Alex Cox / Starring Christopher Eccleston, Eddie Izzard, Derek Jacobi, Diana Quick / Fantoma (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD5.1, Tartan (UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) /

A lesser-known contemporary of William Shakespeare, Thomas Middleton churned out nasty revenge dramas and supposedly collaborated on some of the nastier bits in Macbeth. One of his more controverisal solo works, The Revenger's Tragedy (or Revengers Tragedy as christened in this film) was subject of authorial debates for years and ranks up there with Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus for sheer nastiness and the level of its body count. Its first film adaptation was tackled by the always unpredictable Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy) who, following in the footsteps of Derek Jarman, set the tale in a war-ravaged, futuristic England filled with gaudy costumes and posturing punks.

This simple tale of vengeance to the core follows the single-minded Vindice (Eccleston), who knocks about with a gang of Liverpool punks to gain favor with the family and cohorts of a wicked Duke (Jacobi) responsible for poisoning Vindice's bride and the entire wedding party years earlier. Vindice's primary scheme involves winning himself over with the Duke's ambitious, cruel, but dim-witted eldest, Lussurio (Izzard), the key to taking out the wealthy family one by one. However, while Vindice successfully exploits each of the nasty family tree's fetishes and obsessions to his own deadly purposes, his use of his own family and friends in his plot -- not to mention the sympathies of the public at large -- proves to be his undoing.

Neither the best nor the worst of the whole violent-tragedy-in-trendy-clothes cycle, The Revengers Tragedy sticks faithfully to the original text and offers wonderfully unhinged performances from the three male leads; stand-up icon and drag favorite Izzard in particular manages to hold his own and often surpasses his more seasoned co-stars. However, despite all its brashness and frenetic style, the film never quite crosses the line giddily tramped over by such Jacobean feasts as Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Julie Taymor's Titus. While Cox captures a palpable atmosphere and seems fascinated in the idea of a bombed, hi-tech London teeming with vicious clans, he displays such a disinterest in the sex and violence that perhaps he should have chosen material a little more suited to his own unique gift for twisting dialogue and incident according to his singular vision. As a result, we get a lot of great actors doing a gripping story for a talented director, and while certainly entertaining, one can only wish the match could have fit a little more snugly. Oddly, as with Baz Luhrmann's Hollywood efforts, the opening scenes are the weakest and allow the film to steadily march uphill from there. Whatever its flaws, the film does pay off and finishes with a nice, dramatic flourish filled with chaos and raging political commentary in the final moments.

Barely seen outside the U.K., Revengers Tragedy first hit DVD from Tartan in a decent anamorphic edition complete with some on-the-set footage and a ten-minute featurette. However, the presentation to go for is undoubtedly Fantoma's, which offers a souped-up 5.1 mix, a longer half-hour documentary, an amusing and often perceptive commentary with Cox and Izzard, four mini-featurettes on the production design, costumes, and filming process, a deleted scene, a PR promo compiled from the film's screening at Cannes, a gallery of Cox's storyboards and production art, and an insert containing excerpts from Cox's filming journal. The disc also includes optional English subtitles which come in handy during some of the more over-the-top sequences.

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