You’d probably have to go back to Kurosawa (Throne of Blood) or Welles (Chimes at Midnight) to find a more ingeniously and passionately mounted Shakespeare film production. That’s heady company for a first-time movie director to keep, but Julie Taymor had already demonstrated her visual virtuosity, most popularly in her stage version of The Lion King but also in her 1994 production of Titus Andronicus. Taymor looks for the imagistic possibilities of every moment, and Titus is two hours and forty-four minutes of very fattening eye candy. It begins (as it did onstage) with a present-day little boy wrecking his action figures in a bit of war play; he, and we, are then ushered into the world of Titus (Anthony Hopkins) and his ill-starred dynasty. Taymor is no visual wizard to the exclusion of performances: she gets rowdy work out of Hopkins as well as Jessica Lange (looking fabulous in a variety of Milena Canonero outfits) as Tamora, Harry J. Lennix as Aaron, Alan Cumming chewing every bit of available scenery as Saturninus, Laura Fraser as the pitiable Lavinia, and Angus Macfadyen (more Wellesian here than he was as Welles in Cradle Will Rock) as Lucius. Fox Searchlight released this, probably spent a great deal of money on it, and very likely took a huge bath on it, but it’s this sort of project that studios should be throwing gobs of cash at more often. Taymor’s next film was Frida. She later returned to Shakespeare with The Tempest.

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