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Directed by Ralph Fiennes

UK, 2011

Cornerhouse, 21 January 2012


Ralph Fiennes’ film is fine withal, a triumphant transfer of Shakespeare to the silver screen.

It is fast paced and intensely, virtuosoly (if it’s not a word, it is now) cinematic yet the language, and the imagery of the language, takes centre-stage sometimes too, as well it should.

He is a man forged by war, this Coriolanus, a man who is hard, austere, resolute, proud.  His martial exploits lead him into politics and the silly games of spin-doctors and tribunes, an arena for which he is spectacularly unsuited.  On being rejected by the vulgaris, he is banished from Rome and in time comes to plan his revenge.  What is compelling about Coriolanus as a character is that he is both heroic and pitiful; he can’t compromise or pretend to be something he’s not; his very integrity is his undoing.

The performances are brilliant: Fiennes himself takes the lead, and as Coriolanus he’s  intense and driven; Vanessa Redgrave, quite Fiennes equal as an actor, is a mother who is quite prepared to sacrifice her son to save Rome; Gerard Butler, no slouch in the acting stakes either, plays Aufidius, Coriolanus’s enemy and later comrade.  Aufidius’s jubilation when Coriolanus comes before him (‘But that I see thee here, thou noble thing, more dances my rapt heart than when when I first my wedded mistress saw bestride my threshold.’) is without doubt the best scene in the film.  So Roberto Mancini must have felt when Mario Barotelli signed for him.  And not to forget Brian Cox, always a watchable actor, who here plays a grave Roman.

The music, too, is greatly effective: ominous and forboding, as befits the story.  That leaves the drama itself and Shakespeare’s occult sense of the different kinds of creatures man can be – there’s no human nature, we are too malleable for that – and his compassion for those creatures’ suffering, of course.  In the end, Coriolanus the warrior, like a beloved but dangerous dog, is gently put to sleep by the one who maybe knew him best.

This is a great film adaptation.  John Logan’s screenplay sculptures Shakespeare’s text supremely well, and it will lead you – or should, anyway – to seek out the play itself.