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.
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
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
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
AND WHERE DID THE APOSTROPHE
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.