Today: April 18, 2024

Coriolanus DVD

Although not an essential Shakespearian text Coriolanus has all the hallmarks of The Bard.

Although not an essential
Shakespearian text Coriolanus has all the hallmarks of The Bard.

Shakespeare is no stranger to the silver
screen. From Orson Welles and Laurence
Olivier
’s classics, the flamboyance of Baz
Luhrman
’s Romeo & Juliet
through to adaptations such as 10 Things
I Hate About You
and Forbidden
Planet,
Shakespeare is just as inspirational now as he’s ever been. Ralph
Fiennes
has clearly been a long time admirer of Shakespeare having found
early fame with the William Shakespeare Company. So to hear that such a revered Oscar nominated actor is not
only making the transition into directing but is bringing another Shakespeare
adaptation to screen one immediately things of such luminaries as Olivier and Kenneth Branagh. Crucially though, Fiennes has not just
brought a Shakespearian text to life but updated it, infused it and positively
inspired it to be something greater than a play originally written in the early
17th Century.

With
Rome (looking suspiciously like something out of the Eastern Block) in a state
of civil unrest due to food shortages General Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) quashes any uprising but
makes few friends by calling the mobs unworthy due to their lack of military
service. Sensing weakness in Rome
the Volscian army led by Martius’ sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) begins an attack. With his army depleted Martius engages
Aufidius in hand to hand combat and manages to suppress the attack. Returning to Rome a hero, and given the
name Coriolanus for his brave exploits, his mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) and ally Menenius (Brian Cox) insist he run for council. However, his past with the mob will
trap Coriolanus in a web of backstabbing and he is soon cast out of Rome and
chooses to side with Aufidius to take his revenge on his beloved city.

For
those unfamiliar with Coriolanus, and it is one of Shakespeare lesser known
texts and therefore not on your school’s reading list as a child, it contains
all the hallmarks of The Bard.
Vengeful warriors, ambitious relatives, prophecies of doom and enough
betrayal and intrigue to shake a stick at. Epic ideas doesn’t quite cover it.

Fiennes
manages to make Corionalus contemporary though. While the language and ideas are no doubt The Bard’s
creation Fiennes injects a wonderfully gritty realism to the film. Taking a leaf out of his Hurt Locker
director Kathryn Bigelow’s book of dirty aesthetics, Coriolanus has enough
grime and blood to soak it in sweat rather than Elizabethan finery. The design and locations more than
imply a sense of the Serb-Croat conflict of the 90s and as such is able to take
the ideas on offer in the play to all new and powerful levels.

Issues
of allegiance to ones self and ones country rise to the surface while the power
of the people is wonderfully captured by a devious James Nesbitt. Furthermore, the modern setting allows
for an element of distance from the source material while maintaining its
connection through the Shakespearian verse which is smartly used. Even the chorus, which here appears as
news footage and readers, including a slightly comical appearance by Channel
4’s John Snow, sits right in the tone of the piece.

Where
the film does begin to fall short is in the second half when it feels a little
bit stagnant and overly theatrical.
The first act sees Coriolanus going into battle, wandering a desolate
land and finally finding his sworn enemy.
The second sees him sitting a top his golden throne and endlessly
talking to people. It is
unfortunate that Fiennes and writer John
Logan
could not find more inventive ways of drawing the story to its
inevitable conclusion. More time
with Fiennes and Butler bonding would have rectified this issue but it is never
fully addressed and rather skimmed over.
If anything the themes on offer are so similar to Gladiator’s Maximus you wonder if Logan, who wrote Ridley Scott’s
epic, could not have found some inspiration from him. If anything it goes a little too highbrow which, considering
this is Shakespeare, is slightly irksome.

The
performances across the board are outstanding. Fiennes clearly able to call on the cream of British acting
talent with the connections he’s made over the years. Fiennes himself is on wonderfully hissing form, spitting
every line of dialogue with enough contempt and anger to make you understand
why he is exactly the sort of men you’d want in battle but probably avoid
inviting him to a dinner party.
Vanessa Redgrave gives another assured performance as his mother
bringing more than a hint of Lady Macbeth to the proceedings with the menacing
glint in the eye. Unfortunately both Butler and Jessica Chastain, as Coriolanus’ wife, are underused and neither
character is given enough screen time to allow the actors to give us anything
other than a fleeting glimpse at boisterous and shrinking violet performances
respectively.

Loud,
brash, epic and turgid at times Coriolanus comes close to being more than a sum
of its origins. Alas the final
third may be one of the reasons it is a lesser known Shakespeare play as it
falls flat compared to the opening acting. Nonetheless it highlights Fiennes as a director to keep an
eye on with his bleak eye for the political zeitgeist.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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