Today: April 17, 2024

Coriolanus

By Erykah Brackenbury. In his directorial debut, Ralph Fiennes takes Shakespeare’s least-known Roman tragedy and places it in war-ravaged Eastern Europe.

By Erykah Brackenbury

In his directorial
debut, Ralph Fiennes takes Shakespeare’s least-known Roman tragedy and places
it in war-ravaged Eastern Europe.

Being a Shakespearean tragedy, the eponymous Coriolanus (Fiennes), no sniggering at the back, is
a complex and unlikeable character. Widely hailed as the greatest soldier of
Rome, his contempt for the plebeians is palpable, leading to a swift fall from
grace after joining the political elite. Vowing revenge, he allies with his sworn
enemy Aufidius (Gerard Butler). Butler
provides no particular surprises, once again playing the same character he
plays in everything – this time with the added bonus feature of iambic
pentameter. Whilst Butler is good at what he does, his inclusion highlights a
film in which no actor is taxed beyond their usual realm of comfort.

The plot isn’t particularly complex or surprising – the
usual tragedian tropes of revenge, backstabbing and downfall – yet as with all
Shakespeare, the real allure is in the language. Politics has never been so
erudite, seen most compellingly in the silver-tongued Menenius (Brian Cox) as the foil to the
hot-headed Coriolanus.

Whilst a cast of Shakespearean veterans (and Gerard Butler
playing Gerard Butler) is a canny move on Fiennes’s part, some of the direction
is uninspired.

Dialogue is given to newsreaders in an attempt to increase
the subtlety of Shakespeare’s clunkier parts of exposition – but this is
something Baz Luhrmann did in the
90s. And whilst Jon Snow’s cameo
raised a smile, it’s no different to Andrew
Marr
appearing as himself in Doctor
Who
.

The film looks stunning – comparisons have already been made
between this and The Hurt Locker,
though given the films share a cinematographer, Oscar Nominated Barry Ackroyd, this is perhaps not too
astonishing. The acting is of a consistently high quality, but given the cast
list, anything less than exceptional would be unusual.

Fiennes tries his hardest to make the film more palatable to
a modern audience, adding action sequences and upping the tension. The ultimate
result of this, however, boils down to a lot of talking between occasional set
pieces.

Ultimately, something about Coriolanus just doesn’t quite work. It’s unclear why Fiennes chose
to adapt a Shakespeare play that few have heard of, perhaps too uncharitable to
suggest it may be because it’s the only one that hadn’t already been done.

The problem with adapting Shakespeare is that if nobody’s
heard of the source material, there’s usually a fairly good reason for that.
400 years of exposure has ensured that it’s the funniest, most quotable plays
that get re-evaluated time and time again. Ultimately, Coriolanus is Shakespeare at his weakest. And whilst Shakespeare at
his weakest is still fairly marvellous, Coriolanus
is still the poor relation of pieces such as Macbeth or King Lear.
Nobody will leave the cinema quoting the memorable lines with this film. In
some circles, admitting to Shakespeare having an off-day is comparable to
kicking a kitten in the face (probably worse) but it’s nevertheless true.
Originally forming a triumvirate with Antony
and Cleopatra
and Julius Caesar,
Coriolanus is the kid in the corner
that nobody really wants on their football team.

If this is Fiennes’s attempt to be taken seriously as an
actor after a generation of filmgoers now know him as the bloke without a nose
in Harry Potter, mission accomplished. As a director, he still has a way to go.
Whilst there’s nothing definably wrong
with Coriolanus, it speaks volumes
that by the halfway point watches will be checked by even the most obsessive of
Shakespeare aficionados.

There are many reasons to watch the film – a stellar cast
doing what they do best, stuff that goes BOOM (it’s a bit of a ‘boy’ film in
that respect), Fiennes and Butler rolling around in the dirt (delete as
appropriate). It’s worthy and it’s cultural and it’ll make you think. Just
don’t expect to be riveted.

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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