Categories: Movie Reviews
Written By: cjmarren
Can Ralph Fiennes take a 400 year old Shakespeare play & turn it into a modern hit? Colm Marren took a look at Coriolanus to find out…
Ask any schoolchild, or indeed man on the street, to name 3 of William Shakespeare’s plays and you will probably get answers like ‘Romeo & Juliet’, ‘Hamlet’, ‘Macbeth’ and maybe even ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’. You are not, however, likely to hear Joe Soap mention ‘Coriolanus’, but Ralph Fiennes has taken it upon himself to drag this Roman tragedy into a present day setting, while keeping the language and plot of the original play.
Coriolanus tells the tale of Gaius Marcius, a Roman general whose outstanding ferocity and bravery and leadership earns him the added title of Coriolanus. Facing him is Gerard Butler who plays Aufidius, leader of the opposing Volscian tribe and bitter foe of Coriolanus. As the movie progresses, Coriolanus’ contempt of the lower class Roman citizens earns him the ire of both the lowly citizens and the powerful senators, leading to a clash between them and the headstrong general.
The plot itself can’t really be faulted – it’s typical of Shakespeare’s other tragedies, so you’re aware that the end probably won’t consist of puppies and rainbows. Still, it holds up well and does the job. The interesting part is the setting, which is present day; instead of Roman soldiers battling using swords and arrows, they are instead armed with rifles, pistols and even rocket launchers. News reports add in plot details along the way, with the added touch of real-life English newsreader Jon Snow delivering the bulletins for added realism.
Another huge point is the dialogue, which is lifted from the original play – we’re talking ‘Ye Olde English’ here. Don’t expect Coriolanus to yell “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” as he pumps round after round into his foes – instead, he’s more likely to call them “cursed curs” as he dispatches them efficiently.
Truthfully, the language does make the movie somewhat difficult to follow at times, unless your command of English from the 1600s is damned good. However, it’s quite amazing seeing modern actors use such outdated language in a present-day setting – it reminds the viewer that this is how people actually spoke back then, it’s wasn’t just a language confined to the theatre or the pages of a book.
The language brings me nicely to the next point – the performances. Rarely have I seen such utterly enchanting performances from such a large cast – Fiennes is outstanding as the emotionally-charged and battle-hardened Coriolanus. We can’t truly side with him, though we understand why he does what he does; he is truly believable as the flawed figure so beloved of Shaespeare, at once inspirational and loathed as he raises the morale of his troops while crushing the unruly citizens of Rome.
Gerard Butler is also great as Aufidius, though his ability at playing a hardened general was proven years ago in 300. He really does feel like the arch-nemesis of Coriolanus, and his performance is passionate and powerful. The rest of the cast are just as strong as Fiennes and Butler, with James Nesbitt doing as excellent job as a devious, crafty senator while Brian Cox plays the only senator who supports Coriolanus in his father figure-like role.
Direction is marvellous, and an absolute credit to Ralph Fiennes in his directorial début – he certainly didn’t shy away when choosing his first film in the chair. Coriolanus has some fantastic action scenes – guns blazing, knives slashing and bombs destroying both man and property alike while the plot is driven steadily forward as the fires of Rome blaze.
I do have to point out, though, that although only 2 hours long, Coriolanus felt like a much longer film. It’s never ‘bad’; there’s action, story and it’s all pushed along at a solid pace, but for some reason, it seems to take so much longer to progress. My suspicion is that concentrating so hard on the dialogue means that we (as viewers) are more acutely aware of every word uttered, and thus we never have a part where we can sit back and relax while letting the words flow over us.
All told, I enjoyed Coriolanus – it was superbly acted, masterfully directed and beautifully shot. I honestly cannot fault it aside from its deceptive length. Fiennes did well on this one – very well indeed. I think even Gaius Marcius Coriolanus himself would be satisfied with this adaptation.
I’m giving this 4.5 Voldemorts out of 5