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There have many adaptations of Shakespeare plays over the years, including modernizations. From successes like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet to … not successes like Sam Worthington’s 2006 version of Macbeth. Ralph Fiennes has turned to a lesser-known Shakespeare play in Coriolanus for his directing debut—which is now on Blu-ray and DVD—and he does it very well.
Rome is in chaos, the country is in the middle of a food shortage, the plebs are rioting and tensions within the nation of Volsci are flaring up on Rome’s borders. Caius Marius Coriolanus (Fiennes) is a top commander, with the scars to prove it. After a battle between Rome and Volsci and between Coriolanus and his mortal enemy Tullus Aufudius (Gerald Butler), Coriolanus is hailed a hero. Senator Menenius (Brian Cox) convinces Coriolanus to run for Consul of Rome, despite his contempt for the common people. Another senator, Sicinus (James Nesbitt) leads the plebs to exile the war hero, forcing Coriolanus to plot his revenge with none other than his enemy.
Coriolanus is a character-driven and incredibly acted movie from the whole cast. Fiennes shows his passion and love for the text, and is able to deliver those Shakespearian speeches with real conviction. It is also easily Gerald Butler’s best performance.
Fiennes shows incredible skill with his debut behind the camera as well. Coriolanus is a very fast paced and accessible movie. Fiennes employs The Hurt Locker cinematographer Barry Ackroyd to give war scenes an intense, gritty feel that will make you feel like you are in the middle of a war zone. News reports help set the movie’s context and all the background information, which really shows the wider picture of what is going on involving the famine and war. It was done with expert skill and Fiennes employs respected British newsreader Jon Snow (not the Game of Thrones character), which surprisingly works.
Like with any Shakespeare play and adaptation there are plenty of themes in Coriolanus that everyone from movie fans to academics can sink their teeth into. Coriolanus is about the downfall of a great and important man who falls when he enters politics. Politics is a major target and it works in a modern context, as Coriolanus has to press the fresh, make deals and try to appeal to the masses, even though he does not like them. It is also about a clique of political leaders who look for a candidate that would be popular and ensure victory, not for the best or most appropriate candidate. Like in most Shakespeare adaptations the characters are complex, willing to be flexible, have their own goals and ambitions, with the idea of good and evil being very subjective.
Coriolanus is a very good Shakespeare movie and it is accessible to most audiences, even with the language barrier. It is an intelligent, intense movie and will please on a dramatic and intelligential level. Lets hope for more from Fiennes as a director as well as an actor and for Butler to find more juicy roles.