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REVENGERS TRAGEDY

 

IMDb Credits
REVENGERS TRAGEDY

 

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Derek Jacobi, as the Duke

 

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Eddie Izzard as Lussurioso;
Marc Warren as Supervacuo

 

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Chris Eccleston, as Vindici

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVENGERS TRAGEDY
 

WHY DID YOU MAKE THIS FILM?

 I first read the play "The Revengers Tragedie" in an old book called The Poetical Works of Cyrill Tourneur.  It was 1976, or thereabouts.  This was the first Jacobean revenge drama I had read, and it was a revelation to me.  I'dbeen made to read Shakespeare at school, and thought, right enough, "Hamlet" is a greater play, but REVENGERS was my cup of tea exactly.

 WHY?

 Because Shakespeare's work was constrained by the reactionary policics of his time.  And the author of REVENGERS' weren't.  Shakespeare's position is easy to understand and sypathise with: he lived under the Tudor dynasty, and any kind of dissenter (whether a playwright, a nun, or an acutal rebel) was liable to be dragged off, tortured, burned alive, or hanged.  It happened to Thomas Kyd, author of THE SPANISH TRAGEDIE - arrested on suspicion of seditious flyposting.  Under torture Kyd denounced his former friend Christopher Marlowe (DR FAUSTUS, TAMBURLAINE).  And Marlowe was stabbed to death by government agents in a staged fight.  These were extremely dangerous times for the creatives.     

 Shakespeare's work reflects his brilliance at staying on the right side of the regime.  Of all the terrible sins committed in his plays, none is worse than parricide - the killing of a king.  Shakespeare promoted the divine right of kings to be kings, and not to fear or heed the mutterings of their subjects.

 REVENGERS TRAGEDY comes not from the Tudor but from the Jacobean period (i.e. Elizabeth was dead and the head royal was now called James): in the transition there was some kind of a shakeout - a loosening of power - and the Jacobean plays, the plays of the first years of the 17th century, reflect this.  Their language is more modern, and their concerns seem more like ours as well: we know authority is corrupt - the question is, how to unseat it?

 REVENGERS TRAGEDY was first published, anonymously, in 1606.  In London playwrights and actors were enjoying unheard-of creative freedoms, while in the provinces, country people rebelled against the enclosure of public spaces by wealthy landowners.  The rebellions went nowhere and were brutally suppressed; hundreds of people were hanged.  REVENGERS is the story of how one malcontent, a member of a once-noble but fallen family, destroys a dynasty of noble lords.

WOULD ANYONE BUT STUDENTS WANT TO SEE THIS FILM?

Who knows if students want to see it?  What's the difference?  When I was an undergraduate (cut to black & white footage of trams, the Dockers' Umbrella, horse and cart with milk churns) you could tell the difference between students and non-students by their haircuts, the music they listened to, and the clothes they wore.  Today's yoof bear fewer  distinguishing marks.     

 It doesn't matter what their job is.  Either people will get it, and find it funny, or they won't.  REVENGERS TRAGEDY isn't a dessicated work of "quality literature."  It is an angry, almost-demented play, and a black comedy.  Our job as filmmakers is to make it as accessible as possible to a modern audience - and to remain true to the piece.  The locations are either modern or classical - the monumental architecture that the centre of Liverpool and the docks are rich in.  The language is mostly Jacobean, with some modern interpolations, and one contemporary scene.

 WHY MIX THINGS UP LIKE THAT?

 To emphasize, in a filmic way, the absolute absence of change!  The injustices of the early 17th century are those of the early 21st.  Corrupt and powerful forces oppress the poor and the meek.  The poor rise up.  They are suppressed.  And a younger generation of poor, angrier and with access to weapons, rises up to take revenge...  Just as US foreign policy in Central America was the same in 1856 as in 1986, when we made WALKER.  The anachronisms weren't a stunt: they were an inevitable consequence of the narrative.

 In REVENGERS, Lussurioso becomes The Duke while standing against a golden door that bears the logos of Imperial Rome.  But instead of "S.P.Q.R." for Rome it says "S.P.Q.L." - for Liverpool!  The production designers have been congratulated for that, but it's actually there on the doors in St George's Hall in the middle of town.  That massive building - again, from the 1850s - was built to be the biggest secular building in the world - to symbolise the imperial power that Britain projected out of its principal port.  Drew Schofield, the actor who plays Carlo, says he can never pass St George's Hall without thinking about the homeless children selling matches in the shadow of that great cathdral to capitalism, as it was being built.  The very location - like the play - radiates heartlessness, and grandeur.   

WHY IS IT SO SILLY? 

 What do you mean?  REVENGERS TRAGEDY is a tight-lipped, hard-edged Noir thriller featuring a showdown between narrow-eyed, desperate hombres.  Just because the characters have names like Spurio, or Ambitioso, or Supervacuo, or a mother who has sex with her own sons, or a hero who carries his late wife's head around with him, doesn't mean they're meant to be ridiculous! 

 WHY ISN'T IT MORE VIOLENT?

 It's violent enough.  I don't think super-realistic violence is necessary here.  Everything is so arch and weird to begin with.  Emotional passions are already amped to the extreme.  If anything, the violence should be even more ludicrous - when the brothers are shot, stuffing should perhaps pour out of them.  Or blue blood.

 WHY ARE THERE SO MANY CHARACTERS FROM BROOKSIDE IN IT?

There are no characters from "Brookie" (a long-cancelled TV series set in Liverpool) in REVENGERS TRAGEDY.  You may have noticed actors, such as Michael Starke, who have appeared in it, or indeed in other soap operas. Soap operas, like episodic drama, provides valuable work for thesps.  But actors are not the same as the characters they play.  Fortunately.   

 WHAT DOES THE BUS SCENE MEAN?

 In Frank Cottrell Boyce's original script, Vindici arrived on board a Chinese junk in the River Mersey.  In the first draft, his crewmates were alive, and patching up their wounds from a recent sea battle.  In a later draft, they were all dead - Vindici was alone aboard a death ship, like Nosferatu. 

 We didn't shoot that opening because - for budgetary reasons - we couldn't come up with a seaworthy junk!  For similar concerns we relocated Lussurioso's party from a Mersey Ferry Pleasure Cruise to the Barcelona nightspot.  It's unfortunate, perhaps, to lose the maritime aspect.  But it isn't deadly.  Instead, Vindici arrives on a bus which has (I think) been ambushed, and all its occupants killed.  Fate or the Comet or a vengeful god spares Vindici alone, because he still has business to attend to.  But death is where he's coming from, as it were.

 WHY DID YOU ASK CHUMBAWAMBA TO DO THE MUSIC?

 They are hugely talented, highly relaxed and easy to approach (I emailed them c/o their website at chumba.com, and Alice Nutter replied immediately).  They also seemed, and turned out to be, in sympathy with what REVENGERS TRAGEDY is about.

 AND WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

 While shooting REVENGERS, every night I read a little bit of Philip K. Dick's A SCANNER DARKLY.  Years ago I thought about addressing the disguise problem in REVENGERS by the use of "scanner suits" as in Dick's novel.  The way Frank wrote the screenplay, they weren't necessary.  Yet there still seemed some connection between A SCANNER and REVENGERS.  Perhaps it was the determination of the hero, his valiant resolve, and his sacrifice.  To know what REVENGERS is really about, you would have to ask the author, who we believe is Thomas Middleton.  He is reputed to be rather elusive.  As the director of this version, I would say REVENGERS is about the futility of revenge, and of struggling to bring down empires.  And the excitement of trying.

 AND WHERE DID THE APOSTROPHE GO?

 I'm tired of the apostrphe.  Nobody knows what to do with them any more (even though the rule regarding apostrophes is very simple, it seems to have become totally un-learnable). There wasn't one on the title page of THE REVENGERS TRAGEDIE and what's good enough for Tom M is good enough for me.

visit RevengersTragedy.com