Coriolanus (2011)

Given Ralph Fiennes’ renowned status as one of the modern great Shakespearean actors – treading the boards to critical acclaim in no less than a dozen of the more recent adaptations for the stage in a career now entering its 4th decade – it’s somewhat surprising that his screen debut as one of The Bard’s more unsympathetic tragic heroes is in the film which is also notable for it being his first foray into the world of feature directing. Joining Fiennes is some noteworthy talent: Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox and Jessica Chastain exhibit an apt ability to wield this John Logan-adapted modernisation of Shakespeare’s text.

In a place calling itself Rome, we find Caius Martius (Fiennes) – the brilliant Roman general – being held by the rioting citizens as the man responsible for their current shortage of grain. Martius, remarkably battle-scarred, confronts the people at the gates of the grain store and quite openly claims that these “ordinary people” are not entitled to such provisions because they don’t bear the same rights as the militarians who serve their country. Upon receiving news that the opposing Aufidius (Butler) led Volscian army is present in the nearby city of Corioles, Martius leaves to take control of it – meeting his blood enemy Aufidius in the now derelict residential block that Martius’ army is attempting to seize. The two generals clash in brutal single combat in front of their respective armies, but neither claims victory as they are each dragged away by their men as soon as the opportunity arises. Aufidius retreats, the Romans having taken control of the city and Martius returns to the capital to be named a hero of Rome once more. In the presence of his mother Volumnia and wife Virgilia (Redgrave and Chastain respectively), his young son and members of the Roman senate (including Cox), Martius is bestowed the cognomen “Coriolanus” as reward for his courage in facing the Volscians and the taking of Corioles. Armed with the new title and apparent support of the people, Volumnia fiercely encourages him to run for the position of consul and after initially being unsure of his desire to be such a figurehead, he does so with the backing of the current senate. But he can’t hide his inherent dislike for the common people for long, and with such strong views and quick temper he soon commands a fierce hatred from those he supposedly represents – resulting in events which can only lead to his tragic downfall. How will this development affect his reputation in the eyes of his and Rome’s sworn enemy Aufidius? And what of his principles and priorities when it comes to the matter of family?

Logan’s previous screenwriting credits include Gladiator (2000), The Last Samurai (2003) and 2011′s Rango and Hugo – with present duties being as contributor to the eagerly anticipated next-Bond, Skyfall, later this year. Whilst you can’t really go wrong in visualizing a text of Shakespeare’s for a screen-outing, in modernising the environments and key plot elements it’s worth acknowledging Logan for doing a very adequate job. Perhaps in a case of “location typecasting”, Serbia is used to stand in for a modern day war-torn Rome and its baron and often desolate vistas succeed in conveying the atmosphere of an empire at odds within itself. Needless to say, Fiennes portrays the titular character with the conviction the role demands and despite the constant niggling knowledge that he was also once Lord Voldemort, he successfully proves why he has been called upon so often to play the heaviest of roles (both on stage and screen) and can even direct Shakespeare in league with probably his most comparable contemporary: Kenneth Branagh. There are great appearances also by James Nesbitt as a Roman official and by none other than Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, as Rome’s “Fidelis TV” newsreader – it’s initially dauntingly funny but he delivers the prose rather convincingly. The film retains much of Shakespeare’s words and delivery, so it’s not a film you can watch lightly or escape with on a casual Friday night trip to the multiplex. Definitely recommended if you are a fan of his plays, or would appreciate something requiring a little more concentration as it’s well worth that commitment. You’d also be supporting the British film industry, which is always an added bonus.

Coriolanus (2011) frame

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