Ordinarily, I’m not in favour of remaking the classics, but Tinto Brass’s racy 1979 film was a staple text during my formative years, so when I discovered that original star Helen Mirren was one of the driving forces behind this reverse-gender remake/reboot, I was keen to see the result for myself. A notorious tale of Roman hedonism, Caligula was and remains a point where mainstream commercial and erotic cinema converged, and the remake takes the same hard line, so be warned, the trailer below is very much NSFW but that’s reflective of the nature of the film itself.
The modern twist here, of course, is that in this version, Caligula is a woman, and Mirren is more than up to the task of capturing the sheer depravity of the Roman emperor. Brass’s original film, of course, also featured such luminaries as Peter O’Toole, Sir John Gielgud and Malcolm McDowell, but Francesco Vezzoli manages not to besmirch the good name of Caligula by assembling a top notch support cast around Mirren, including Gerry Butler, Courtney Love, Karen Black and more.
But what’s more, Vezzoli gets the decadent tone right; while the excess of ancient Rome is very much present, there’s also sumptuous costumes and Mirren’s always on point delivery to savour. Other stand-outs include Benicio Del Toro as Marco, and the underrated Milla Jovovich as Mirren’s sister Drusilla, in an awards-ready performance that erases memories of her Resident Evil movies. Some of the additions, including a sequence involving leprechauns befriending a dog with PTSD, seemed irrelevant, but then perhaps that’s the point; excess is all.
I came out of this week’s screening of the restored version of the 2005 version very much as I went in, my mind racing with questions of identity with such fervour that I was unable to ride my bicycle. It’s rare for any film to evoke such a strong reaction from this critic, but when it comes to divine decadence, this well-timed remake of Caligula proves that all roads really do lead to Rome.
Thanks to publicist Daisy Flora Pol and the Caligula Restoration Marketing team for early access to this title. Caligula (2005) is in UK cinemas from April 1st 2022.