In this modern day take of Shakespeare’ Roman epic Coriolanus, Ralph Fiennes not only stars as the protagonist himself, but makes his directorial debut. From the off it’s clear that Fiennes has certainly pulled out all of the stops with his casting, presenting an A-List cast featuring Gerard Butler (Aufidius), James Nesbit (Tribune Sicinius), Vanessa Redgrave (Volumnia) and Brian Cox (Menenius) to name but a few.
Sticking firmly to Shakespeare’s original plot, Fiennes explores the rise and downfall of prominent Roman politician Coriolanus. Covered with the scars of fighting for his country, Coriolanus is determined to reach the top of the Roman political ladder, or Curcus Honorum, and reach the highest position of consul. However Rome is in a volatile position; engaged in a war with its neighbours and arch enemy Aurifdius (Butler), Rome is on the brink of social uproar thanks to food shortages. Coriolanus is forced to confront his biggest flaw – a deep-seated hatred for the plebeian populace of Rome.
Perhaps the most immediately obvious aspect of the film is the twenty-first century setting for Shakespeare’s Rome; a world filled with the modern advances of machine guns, tanks and mobile phones. Yet purists need not be disappointed as Fiennes takes great care to preserve the original language used by the Bard. It is perhaps not so original to use either the modern setting or the original Shakespearean language, but it is the seamless blending of the two within the environment Fiennes creates that marks them both as the film’s strong points. It is also this seemingly effortless combination which alleviates the common grievances with films using Shakespearean language – the effort required to understand.
Here the integration of the modern values also lends to an interesting social comment on modern life. Whilst the power of the media to inform is evident through the extensive use of hand recorded film and news broadcast, there is still a massive focus on the power of speech. In the spirit of the famed Roman oratory tradition it is depicted as man’s most useful persuasive tool and its power ties in with how the nature of Shakespearean language is kept the same. A possible interpretation could relate to a modern reliance on technology whilst discarding primary talents.
The simple mixture of the classic tales with modern ideas also lends to more simplistic ideas; do we have much to learn from history, should it be seen as a constant source of inspiration? Aside from reflections on modern life, Coriolanus also gives a telling representation of Roman values, questioning what should be held most dear. Should the tears of a mother, son or wife take precedence over that of national pride?
As his first run as a director, Fiennes does a good job at balancing emotion and action. Long shots are made use of to convey emotion, whilst not lingering long enough to become stage-like. A liberal helping of blood, gore and violence ensures the film is not for the faint hearted, though gives enough respite to safely hide behind the sofa.
Best guest appearance: Jon Snow (worth watching for this moment for alone).