Coriolanus (15)

Directed by Ralph Fiennes
Written by John Logan (Screenplay) and William Shakespeare (Play)
On general release from 20th January 2012

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

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.

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