Directed by Ralph Fiennes
Written by John Logan (Screenplay) and William Shakespeare (Play)
On general release from 20th January 2012
5BC. Rome and its environs are updated here to a modern day dystopia.
Corn riots in the city are rife. Patrician General Caius Martius (Fiennes)
has no sympathy for plebeian protest – a contempt reciprocated by
the mob. A grudging respect is however accorded him when defending the
city, exemplified here in a desperate fight with the Volsi at Corioles,
where he drives his troops with no regard to safety or sanity. Returning
badly injured a grateful Senate elevates him to Consul and awards him
the appellation Coriolanus, an unwanted appointment and the driving force
to this story.
Lacking in political and oratorical skills, he is not up to the job.
Sensing a chance to remove him, the Peoples Tribunes foment unrest and
he impeaches himself in the public’s eyes. An intransigent, self-banishment
with the hated Volsi ensues, as does an assault on his own birthright
as well as his family.
So what is going on here? This is a film depicting the extremes of the
human psyche. Coriolanus is a fish out of water, a tortured soul once
stripped of his General's persona. His unequivocal perspective on life
leads to a hole he cannot get out of but is it possible to shed a tear
for the insistence that only he is right?
Shakespeare does find redemption of sorts for this madness unchecked
at a catastrophic price which is willingly accepted. Good triumphs over
evil but it is a close call. Only his prostrate mother's pleading brings
light to a blackness paralleling that of Kurtz in Conrad's Heart
Of Darkness. His death at the hands of thwarted Volsi Captain Tullus
Aufidius (Butler) comes as a relief. Summarily stripped of his title he
dies plain Caius Martius, all he defiantly ever wanted, having saved what
he set out to destroy.
At just over two hours this début film is true to the play. Timescales
and scene changes are contextualised well via both the medium and director's
cut. Interesting plot changes and set pieces keep the mind focused as
the emotions ebb and flow.
Purists may demur, but this Shakespeare is fit for purpose in a 21st
Century riven with conflict and little concern for the human condition.
The sight of contemporary weaponry, stretch limos and suited, whiskey-quaffing
autocrats is also not out of place. A tragedy in every sense this film
will produce ambivalent reactions in the viewer but this adaptation is
a benchmark for our times.