Coriolanus – a film directed by Ralph Fiennes – light spoilers


A film Directed by Ralph Fiennes

Screen Play by John Logan
based on the original play by William Shakespeare.


Ralph Fiennes
Gerard Butler
Brian Cox
Vanessa Redgrave
James Nesbitt

This film was recommended to me via Twitter by a Dalek – seriously – Nicholas Pegg is one of the regular performers who control the Daleks in Doctor Who. Nicholas has worked on several Shakespearean stage plays, I’ve never seen any of his performances, so when he said this film was in his top ten of Shakespeare films it made sense to listen. Though it took two months before I bought a copy – DVD currently on sale in Morrisons for £5.00 – and I’m very glad I did.

The play is based on a historical person but Shakespeare had to fill in quite a few gaps as Gaius Marcius Coriolanus lived and died in the earliest periods of the Roman Republic, 509-527 BC. There are questions over quite how real he was but I’m not concerned with that. Shakespeare preferred the spelling Caius Martius.

As with any film adaptation there are differences between the original play. This film uses Shakespearean language but uses imagery and costumes reminiscent of the war between the previous states of Yugoslavia in 1992. Filming was in Serbia with many local actors. This can be considered an alternative Rome.

Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) is a successful General who has served his country well and many times defeated their greatest enemy, the commander of the Volscian army, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler).

The citizens of Rome are close to open revolt due to lack of grain and perceived reduction in civil liberties. Outside Rome Caius Martius leads a raid on the Volscian city Corioles, which ends with a one-on-one fight between Caius Martius and Tullus Aufidius which is quite brutal.

Returning to Rome a hero Brutus Caius Martius is given the cognomen (an honorific name) Coriolanus and  is encouraged by his mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), to run for election as Consul. This is encouraged by his friend Senator Menenius (Brian Cox) but finds strong opposition from Senators Brutus (Paul Jesson) and Sicinius (James Nesbitt).

Brutus and Sicinius maneuver Coriolanus in to a disastrous position where he finds himself censured and banished from Rome. Driven to a hatred of his once beloved city he goes to Volsci and seeks out his old enemy Tullus Aufidius and asks to join him and renew the struggle against Rome. Tullus Aufidius welcomes Coriolanus and shares command of his men, halfing them between himself and the Roman.

Together Coriolanus and Tullus Aufidius bring Rome to their knees.

I won’t go further than this as to say more spoils watching the movie.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The imagery works well, we’ve seen many films and TV shows with mock TV News footage but this one seems to work better than most – Channel 4’s Jon Snow delivers his lines brilliantly. The language use can put some people off Shakespeare, but the modern imagery may assuage this perhaps. For me the juxtaposition works perfectly.

The performances are wonderful. Ralph Fiennes gives a very solid performance showing a frustrated man put into a position he is uncomfortable with, not least unsuited for. Gerard Butler however is a constant, he knows exactly who he is and what he wants. Vanessa Redgrave is a wonderful matriarch, putting her in a military uniform to accentuate her power in Rome was a very good way of showing the power behind great men in Rome.

The sound track is emotive and flows along with the action and the direction is faultless, a marvelous debut for Fiennes.

I strongly recommend you watch this film if you haven’t already. Or you may be exterminated.

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