In Review: Coriolanus

By Darryl Griffiths

Bringing a contemporary feel to a work of Shakespeare is arguably a daunting and quite audacious prospect for anyone, especially with the purists ever-ready to sharpen their tongues. But reinterpreting a play that is one of the least performed and recognisable on a wide scale, you have to wonder.. what was Ralph Fiennes thinking when agreeing to such a gig?? 

As the key figure in front and behind the camera, he assembles a heavyweight cast and throws them in at the deep end for Coriolanus.
Shedding the original play’s old school surroundings of ancient Rome and shot on location in a grim looking Belgrade whilst keeping the traditional fluidity of the language intact, we bare witness to the trials and tribulations of a one Caius Martius (Fiennes). Driven on by his proud aristocratic mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) and his emotionally vulnerable wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain), he is rigid in what he believes should be the ideals in life. A gung ho and ferocious commander by trade, he leads the charge against Tulius Aufidius (Gerard Butler) and his guerilla army in a fierce battle of urban warfare that makes for a thrilling opening segment.
Upon his return, he is buried by an overwhelming amount of praise and is convinced by his peers, most notably Memenius (Brian Cox) to undertake a key role as a consul. The decision is soon met with disapproval by fellow politicans who don’t exactly deem him the diplomatic type and is further countered by protests from a frustrated public. Martius needs the votes but beneath holds a deep-seated contempt for them. The efforts of passionate campaigners Tribune Sicinius (James Nesbitt) and Tribune Brutus (Paul Jesson) eventually drive Martius away from ‘Rome’ and into exile. Angered by such a revolt, he plots a fightback and soon finds solace within the backing of an unexpected ally.. 
It may have been a gamble, but Fienne’s execution of the material is nothing short of exemplary. His on screen performance bristles with raw intensity and delivers his lines with the utmost gusto.. which will beg the question, where are the awards nods? His directorial efforts are pretty impressive also. It appears that he’s drawn upon the social realist feel of the works of Paul Greengrass and more recently Katheryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker especially in the vivid battle sequences, which given the Nesbitt-crossover may evoke memories of Bloody Sunday.

What should really resonate with audiences is how socially relevant this interpretation of Coriolanus proves to be. Its depictions of a public collective easily manipulated by the hierarchy, TV debates that soon descend into chaos but have a lasting impact on the public personas of once respected figures being mere examples.
You”ll find it hard to fault the entire cast in all honesty. Butler proves to be an equally intimidating adversary to Fiennes, Redgrave shamefully hasn’t had a role to really sink her teeth into for quite a while, but her emotionally nuanced and graceful performance here will surely change matters. Nesbitt and Jesson are a compelling double act and Brian Cox once again proves he’s one of cinema’s most underappreciated actors.
The Shakespearean lingo may wear you down with its occasional long winded nature.. but i’ll take this over the ‘BRAP BRAP’ and ‘SHADDUP’ drivel that normally comes pouring out of the youth of today, any day of the week!
Bold, bloody and brilliant.. i can’t wait to see what Fiennes could do with original material!

Darryl has awarded Coriolanus five Torches of Truth

3 responses to “In Review: Coriolanus

  1. I have long liked Coriolanus), the play (as the man is almost impossible to figure – but I can identify with someone courting trouble and knowing it), and, as it was little performed, snatched the chance to see it when, I think, Toby Stephens played the role at Stratford (it was early days for Toby, then).

    And then I saw that there was a matinee preview of this film at my Arts Picturehouse – it could have been a Members’ free viewing, but I missed it anyway, probably by being asleep. I didn’t want to know anything about it, as almost any treatment of the piece is going to be interesting (Beethoven even wrote a Coriolan Overture), and I will see it, and then see how I get on with this review – I see the five torches, so I hope that I’m not headed for disappointment, is it doesn’t match up for me.

    With the blog, I’ve just started considering this business of how to decide – or how I decide – what to try, not least as last September saw me faced with an even-larger-than-before 70-page booklet from which to choose my viewing during the 11 days of Cambridge Film Festival.

    If you dare, see my ramblngs (to date) on this topic at

  2. I regret to admit that there’s even a Part 2 to that posting (for those not heartily hacked off by Part 1):

  3. I have now seen the film (I managed a matinee, which, when finances were rocky a week ago, felt good, as cheaper), and I have now read what Darryl has written.

    Those crazy enough can read my review at Fiennes as Coriolanus – a touch of Anthony Hopkins?

    In the meantime, I remain unsure about the ‘utmost gusto’, because, even if I don’t think that it worked to build up a credible personality, I also saw a Coriolanus who was very confined and inward – and Coriolanus, if asked (if really asked), would put two fingers up to the awards!

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