Coriolanus DVD Review

Grim.

That’s the word I’d use to describe Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut, Coriolanus, though I don’t mean this in a bad way.

His gritty re-imagining of Shakespeare is something else.

Set in an alternate reality, where Rome is a modern, military state and just as fascist as our ancient forebears, Coriolanus is set amidst a war between Rome and the Volscians, to a dystopian backdrop that’s tinged with bitterness, bitterness and more bitterness.

Did I mention it’s grim?

And underneath all this there’s a seething political subtext that echoes the Balkan conflict of the nineties, even down to the identical weapons both sides use here.

As far as I can tell, the dialogue is intact from the original Shakespearean text. The parts in antiquated English can be a bit hard to follow, but as the characters actions usually speak for themselves it’s never too hard to understand what’s going on.

Whilst this can be tiresome at times, it’s safe to say nobody writes like this anymore. And Fiennes makes sure most of the best lines are his, particularly when delivering tempestuous judgement on the proles’ plight in Coriolanus.

The soundtrack is stark and minimalistic, with some percussion and industrial soundbeds mixed with the occasional isolated instrument that dares face up to the film’s weighty atmosphere. But most of the time there is no music at all.

You can feel that Coriolanus is built upon on Fiennes theatrical background, at times feeling more like a play than a feature film, which is no bad thing.

Turns out he’s been performing this role onstage for a while now, and to me it looks like he’s nailed it.

Brother Ralph is amazing as the hateful Caius Martius Coriolanus, snarling, snorting and stabbing his way towards war against the city he once loved. Using the same sort of seething energy he brought to his portrayal of that other villainous character he’s now synonymous with, Fiennes comes on especially strong after Coriolanus defects against Rome.

In fact, whoever did the casting got it spot on.

Vanessa Redgrave excels as Coriolanus’ foreboding mother, Volumnia, all shrewd harshness, calculation and ambition; egging her son on and then cutting him off just as quickly.

Gerard Butler is totally believable as Tullus Aufidius, with his brooding and malicious portrayal in contrast to Fiennes outspoken vitriol as Coriolanus. This subdued role’s a bit of a departure for Butler; instead of playing the all action man, he delivers bitter and resentful dialogue while staring off into space and fiddling with a wicked looking combat knife.

I’m not a huge fan of classic literature, and I’m sure purists might find some of the modern juxtaposition Fiennes elects for jarring, there’s something I quite like about Coriolanus.

Those looking for little more than mindless violence will be disappointed as there’s quite a lot of dialogue tying everything together here, making it easy to lose the plot. But Coriolanus is ultimately a rewarding experience and it sure as hell beats reading the play.

Watching it might make you a bit sad though. Did I mention it’s a bit grim?

Jack Oughton

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