Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Friday, 20 January 2012

Review: Coriolanus

Fiennes' solid Shakespearean directorial debut

Director: Ralph Fiennes
Screenwriter: John Logan, based on the play by William Shakespeare
Cast: Ralph Fiennes (Caius Martius Coriolanus), Vanessa Redgrave (Volumnia), Gerard Butler (Tullus Aufidius), Brian Cox (Menenius) and Jessica Chastain (Virgilia)
Plot: Having triumphed in war against Tullus Aufidius, Caius Martius is entitled Coriolanus and nominated to become Consul of Rome, a city which is starving. His dislike for the people and the cunning of other politicians drives him into exile, where he unites with Aufidius.
Running Time: 122m 53s

You have to applaud Ralph Fiennes’ apparent fearlessness in taking on his first outing as a film director. Not only has he taken on the difficult job of directing himself in the title role, but he has chosen one of Shakespeare’s most notoriously troublesome plays.

However, it does have a naturally cinematic storyline, taking in scenes of war and political intrigue, and it does have some magnificent language kept from the original (“What's the matter, you dissentious rogues, that, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion, make yourselves scabs?”) in John Logan’s stripped down screenplay which does an admirable job of making the film easy to follow whilst maintaining the play’s Shakespearean essence.

So Fiennes has to be congratulated for tackling this difficult text and making something which has the potential to have a very broad appeal. However, that doesn’t stop the essential story being really difficult to get along with. The decision to update the setting to an unidentified Balkan state (“a place calling itself Rome”) creates a somewhat illusory sense of import. It echoes conflicts of the nineties and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but actually says very little about them.

The difficulty with the political aspect of the film is that it is the uninteresting part. Coriolanus’ relationship with his mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) is the heart of the film, and the whole of the narrative builds up to their climactic confrontation. However, the rest of the plot is often a little tedious.

Despite this problem, the film is solidly delivered by Fiennes, whose direction is very accomplished (though casting Jon Snow as a newsreader may have been an unintentionally hilarious misstep), and whose performance revels in both the language and the opportunity to spend considerable amounts of time appearing severally with head daubed with blood, then with fantastic beard and intermittently in natty military attire.

However, the film belongs to the quite incredible Redgrave. Without a doubt, BAFTA acceptance speeches may not be her strong suit, but at nearly 75 she is still dominating the screen, and her performance here is worth the admission fee alone. There is also a very effective supporting turn from Brian Cox, as well as a brief but impressive appearance from James Nesbitt. Unfortuantely, Gerard Butler, though he is perfectly alright, pales in comparison with this illustrious company.

There are good bits to be sure, but this does struggle under that central problem that the story is just not particularly engrossing and Fiennes’ directorial debut becomes a solid but unremarkable affair.

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