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December 14, 2013

Coriolanus (2012)
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Actors: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave

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Synopsis: Martius (Ralph Fiennes) is a great warrior who has just won a major battle against the Volscians and their leader, Aufidius (Gerard Butler), in Corioles. Christened ‘Coriolanus’ because of that triumph, Martius is soon advised to run for congress by his ambitious mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave). Envious congressmen are able to play on Martius’ lack of interest in politicking and pandering to the people, and soon enough Martius is banished from Rome. A rueful Martius joins forces with Aufidius to wreak revenge on the Roman state.

Review: To anyone questioning the continuing relevance of Shakespeare in our contemporary age, and especially the worth of any cinematic adaptations, Ralph Fiennes’ lucid and thoroughly entertaining Coriolanus is a riposte against any such leaning.

I’ve always been an advocate of the universality and timelessness of Shakespeare’s stories, and it’s especially interesting to note the growing number of productions of Coriolanus – previously one of the more neglected of his plays. I feel its interest in all things to do with major figures trying to conduct themselves in the whirlwind of spin, public opinion and political correctness has a very contemporary slant, and Fiennes mines that logically in locating his Coriolanus in a world of 24 hour news coverage. If anything, I’d say that’s only the marginal misstep in Fiennes’ cinematic imagining of the play. He tends to overkill his ‘trial by media’ thesis with the film resorting on countless occasions to static scenes of characters watching the events unfold on TV to advance the narrative, and the scene where Coriolanus is banished in a Jerry Springer-style show does feel a touch odd. That said, I admire Fiennes’ attempts to re-imagine the universe of Coriolanus in a modern-day amalgam of a grimy Balkan milieu, and he’s sensible enough to let the true star of the show, Shakespeare – with the innately beautiful language and imaginative plotting – take centre stage. The performances are uniformly excellent, and Fiennes owns the role of Coriolanus – almost conceiving of him as a sort of proto-Kurtz with his descent into wilfully nihilistic, renegade activities. (December 2013)

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