Coriolanus – Review

Coriolanus – Review

Review by FilmFellaHenry – 7.5/10

Regardless of performing ability, I’m always intrigued when an actor decides to have a spin at directing. From Anthony Hopkins to Ben Affleck, the results can be surprisingly good, prompting the question (at least in Affleck’s case): why the hell weren’t they doing this earlier?

Now it’s Ralph Fiennes turn behind the camera, with his debut directorial effort Coriolanus. Adapted from Shakespeare’s play, it tells the tale of Roman general Caius Martius Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) and his ascent to power through conquest of Rome’s enemies. Condemned by the people for his harsh values and unwillingness to pander to their whims, Coriolanus finds himself rejected by the Senate and summarily banished. Scarred by this betrayal, he plots revenge, even if that means discarding everything he ever held dear.

There are several good things about Coriolanus. Even though the original story was set almost two thousand years ago, it still remains a relevant commentary on the dynamics of power within a pseudo democratic state. A balance between relenting to the often short-sighted desires of the public and denying such wants for the greater good is a quandary governments still struggle with today. In such an environment, justice can easily be discarded: despite all he has done for the State, the character of Coriolanus becomes a victim to the mob’s fickle nature and need for a popular scapegoat.  Witnessing his early betrayal, I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic to his cause, allowing me to accept his extreme actions, which would otherwise seem abhorrent. An interesting dynamic when you consider that the would-be dictator has now become the film’s hero, while the long suffering people (who are usually considered victims) are in fact the antagonists.

Of course, Ralph Fiennes provides a power house performance, delivering his rants and rages with stage intensity and clear conviction. But crucially, this wrathful display is balanced with moments of subtlety and even humility, rounding off a character that is fascinating to watch. As his nemesis Tullus Aufidius, Gerard Butler matches Fiennes’ on-screen venom with all the broiling rage he displayed in 300. And while he lacks the depth of Coriolanus, this can arguably be down to the character itself and the need to present a far more clear cut soldier figure as a counterpoint.

However, I do have some reservations about the way this idea has been presented. There is a common tendency (especially amongst theatre advocates) to stay as close as possible to the original text when adapting Shakespeare. This of course includes using dialogue some 400 years old and shunning deviation from the established narrative. Why? Because for some reason Shakespeare is held up as a sacrosanct literary demi-god where modification to his work is considered near-blasphemous.

Without denigrating one of the greatest playwrights in history, I will admit to finding this traditionalist approach rather archaic. Shakespeare’s language works for the stage; this does not mean it necessarily works for film. Film dialogue is about effective communication appropriate to the character, not about staying true to an original author. What we have with Coriolanus is a film set modern day, yet based around the politics of 2000 year old ancient Rome, with characters speaking an obsolete version of English used in the 1600’s. This confusion of time periods is just that, with no real reason for it other than staying true to Shakespeare.

Ultimately, it should be the story and nothing else that is of importance when creating a film adaptation (and this goes for everything, be it comic books, novels or even other films). And although Coriolanus has a good story, I felt its delivery is bogged down by an unnecessary faithfulness to a long dead author. The results are a film that Shakespeare purists will probably criticise for being a bastardisation, while the average cinema goer struggles with obsolete language and a muddled setting.

All in all, Coriolanus is an interesting, if not easily accessible watch, that contains a story and characters of importance. I found it a generally enjoyable experience; however I’m sure not everyone will share my sentiments.

Review written by @filmfellahenry


About filmfellahenry
Film reviewer, script writer and occasional painter. Fan of Lumet, Aronofsky and Kubrick, with a good measure of early John Carpenter thrown in. Particularly like post-apocalyptic sci-fi, horror and fantasy film genres.

3 Responses to Coriolanus – Review

  1. parmaham says:

    Nice review, look forward to seeing it! 🙂

    I do understand that you value the story above everything else, which I would agree with when it cones to adaptations of novels. However, as most of Shakespeare’s work is written script it does change the requirements of adaptation as opposed to, say a novel.

    Where you

    • parmaham says:

      Have a plot, story and character development are primarily driven through dialogue. It is therefore to sustain that dialogue to ensure the same story. Which is not necessary when adapting another form of literature. Or so I think at least 😉

      • filmfellahenry says:

        Thanks for the comments Parmaham. Coriolanus is definitely worth seeing, hope you enjoy it!

        However, I still maintain that story (and its effective conveyance) is the fundamental keystone to a good film, regardless of the source it has been adapted from. Cinema is a completely separate medium to literature, stage plays and comics, with its own criteria and method.

        What works for a stage play, does not necessarily work for film. Stage productions rely on exposition and character development almost purely through dialogue as they are generally very limited visually. Film does not suffer from this limitation and therefore can express a narrative or character progression through a variety of other ways that are not dialogue based.

        As such, I don’t believe that Shakespearean adaptations necessarily require the original dialogue to be used. The language in his original plays, while eloquent and very inventive, was only necessarily suited to people of that era within a stage format. As times change, the language undeniably becomes outdated, but the story itself (if it is indeed a good story) will remain timeless. A good example of successful deviation from the original text is Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, the highly acclaimed and very effective adaptation of Macbeth, set in feudal Japan.

        Anyway, glad you enjoyed the review, look forward to hearing from you again!

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