Coriolanus (15.) Directed by Ralph Fiennes. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Gerald Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, James Nesbitt. 123 Mins ***
For his directorial debut Fiennes has decided to do one of the more obscure Shakespeares, one for the completists. I like that because it means that this is that rare Shakespeare where I’m not the only person in the audience who doesn’t know what is going to happen. It is very fine piece of filmmaking and, to my inexpert eyes, a very fine Shakespeare production though the two halves never quite come to an understanding.
Caius Martius (Fiennes) is the outstanding Roman warrior of his time but he is also brusque, haughty and openly dismissive of the common people. When, on his mother’s (Redgrave) promptings he seeks political office he refuses to play the game and curb his forthright opinions: he’s a fascist but hey, at least he’s honest about it. Everywhere he goes he finds himself harangued by the same select rent-a-mob and eventually it gets the better of him.
Fiennes sets this tale of treachery and ancient Roman political duplicity in modern day Serbia and works hard at making it cinematic. Although it’s altogether far more sombre, there’s just as much zest and invention as in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet. A closer parallel though might be Sir Ian McKellen’s Nazi version of Richard III.
It’s a bloody, vibrant vision. Fiennes is outstanding as the man who will become Coriolanus, staring out like a psychotic, distressed Womble. A lot of his dialogue is erudite cumonthens and lezbeavingyas which make his resemble a Danny Dyer who’s swallowed a Thesaurus.
The film is shot like it is news footage with people in the crowd straining to record events on their iPhones. The more the film tries to make Shakespeare cutting edge and relevant, the more dry and academic it becomes. The delivery has been moulded to seem more like contemporary speech. But then just as a riot is about to erupt suddenly everything will stop for someone to delivery a soliloquy. The film is dressed up in combat gear that ultimately it can’t quite fill.