If the category of ‘Shakespeare Plays’ were to come up on BBC One’s game show Pointless (it’s awesome, go watch it), Coriolanus would probably be the pointless answer. This film adaptation, however, seems set to change Coriolanus’s status as the play everyone forgets about.
Ralph Fiennes, best known recently for playing Voldemort in the Harry Potter films, directs and stars in this modernised version of Shakespeare’s play about the titular Roman general who allies himself with the enemy in order to get revenge.
Fiennes has updated this scenario so it takes place in modern day Rome, with the rival army being that of the Volsci (a presumably Balkan state allegory), led by Aufidius (Gerard Butler). This modern setting plays out wonderfully, with TV news coverage of battles interspersed throughout taking the place of messengers, as well as video conference calls and YouTube videos. Jon Snow even makes an appearance as a newsreader, and seeing him read wartime news in an ancient tongue is not as unsettling as one would assume.
Whereas Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet featured Shakespearean dialogue alongside Modern English, Coriolanus remains Shakespearean throughout, and this somehow works well despite the battletanks and machine guns; it got a little bizarre when the Roman Tribunal became a Jeremy Kyle-esque TV Studio, complete with heckling audience, though.
Fiennes, in his directorial début, has done great work here, with some excellent casting. While it may seem narcissistic that he chose himself to play the lead role, I don’t think that anyone else could have performed any better. Vanessa Redgrave as Coriolanus’s mother Volumnia plays an equally poignant role, in the end transcending her role as a mother, and re-establishing herself as a military strategist, putting the safety of her nation before that of her son. Butler, too, as rival then ally to Coriolanus, perfectly portrays the heated emotions of a wartime leader, desperate to get independence for his people at all costs. All in all, this is a great film and cannot be faulted, except for the rather flat performance of Coriolanus’s wife, played by Jessica Chastain; she might as well not be in the film. The 10-year-old son had a bigger impact than her, and he only had one line in the entire film.