Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays, but its mix of politics, military intrigue and power-plays makes it perfect for a modern day retelling.
Here it is set in an Eastern European country, which is called Rome but looks like Serbia. A guerrilla army, led by Aufidius (Gerard Butler) is bent on destroying Rome. But when Roman General Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) wins the battle at Corioles, he returns to Rome victorious and is given the title Coriolanus.
While a great soldier, Coriolanus is an arrogant man who looks down on the people. Yet he is on his way to being made Consul, despite his lack of empathy for the people he will be elected to protect. At a public debate, his extreme views start a riot and Coriolanus is subsequently banished from Rome, much to the delight of Sicinius and Brutus, the two tribunes who incited the riot in an effort to keep Coriolanus out of power.
Eager for vengeance, Coriolanus tracks down his arch-enemy and makes Aufidius choose between killing him or helping him wreak revenge on Rome. When his new army marches into the city, Coriolanus’s mother must plead with him to change his mind, forcing Coriolanus to choose between his family and his army.
The hatred between Coriolanus and Aufidius drives the film, both wanting the prize: control of Rome. Fiennes as the film’s director uses his setting to great effect, bringing in television news footage and other modern devices to make the story’s thrust as powerful and comprehensible as possible. Even the Shakespearian dialogue doesn’t sound out of place, although having it spoken by actors of such calibre as Vanessa Redgrave probably doesn’t hurt.
But it’s Fiennes ‘the actor’ who steals the show. His Coriolanus is mesmerising, as both the driven army general and warmongering outlaw.
Brutal, bloody and all too recognizable in today’s political climate, this film will not disappoint Shakespeare lovers or film lovers.
(Admit One’s James also enjoyed this modern day re-telling, giving it 7.5/10)
UK, 2011, 122 minutes
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain, John Kani, James Nesbitt, Paul Jesson, Lubna Azabal, Ashraf Barhom, Dragan Mieanovie
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Screenplay: John Logan. Based on the play by William Shakespeare
Cinematography: Barry Ackroyd