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Home Reviews LFF 2011 LFF Review: Coriolanus
LFF Review: Coriolanus Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 16 October 2011 12:17
Coriolanus Review - Ralph Fiennes LFF
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Brian Cox, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, James Nesbitt

Lawrence Olivier. Kenneth Branagh. Now Ralph Fiennes joins the list of actors who have directed themselves in a Shakespeare film. And Fiennes is in good company, because his Coriolanus is cracking stuff.

 “A place calling itself Rome” is how Fiennes introduces his modern setting, shoving Shakespeare’s play in the middle of a war-torn republic. Saving Private Ryan sequences litter the movie, but find an identity of their own in the opening assault on Corioles, as guns give way to a one-on-one knife fight between General Caius Martius (Fiennes) and his sworn enemy, Aufidius (Butler).

Soon enough, Caius has earned his title Coriolanus in battle, only to be betrayed by the politicians back home and banished from the city. And so Coriolanus does the only sensible thing: joins forces with Aufidius to wreak bloody revenge.

This is a loud take on the text, a chance for Fiennes to let rip with shouting and crazed sololiquys. (Indeed, there’s not a lot of the film when Fiennes isn’t smeared in blood.) At one point, he grabs Aufidius and jumps through a glass window. Just because. And it totally works, bringing a visual intensity to the cast’s blistering performances.

In Rome, Brian Cox brings gravitas to his parental figure Menenius, controlling the populace while James Nesbitt stirs up ill sentiment, all cheeky chappy smiles and sing-song delivery. In the opposite camp lies Vanessa Redgrave, a formidable mother to Fiennes’ warrior, who examines his wounds with a disturbing, wide-eyed glee.

At the helm, Fiennes commands solid readings of the play from the entire ensemble. Even Gerard Butler manages a strong, manly turn that tops everything else he’s ever done. But this is Fiennes’ show, and he isn’t afraid to let himself off the leash. Familiar with the part from his stage role 11 years ago, Fiennes keeps his Voldemort noises to a minimum as he runs around like a crazed butcher and whispers insults like “Go, you fragments” with quiet venom.  

Credit should go to John Logan, too, whose smart script abridges and updates Shakespeare’s long, slow structure without losing sense of the text. Coriolanus’ betrayal now occurs on a daytime TV show, while the exposition-heavy messenger roles are expertly assigned to newsreaders – including, best of all, Channel 4’s Jon Snow, who delivers asides like “I never saw the like” with deadpan perfection.  

Unfortunately, the visuals can get a little chaotic – at times, Fiennes seems content to just hold the camera in his hand and point it at his face as he sprints along. But he also encourages eye contact with the audience, adding emotional weight to the quieter scenes. With its fuzzy news footage and loud drums on the soundtrack, this Coriolanus is a hectic production, but it’s anchored by an actor at the height of his game. And like Olivier and Branagh before him, Fiennes makes Shakespeare as gripping as it ever was. Verily, Voldemort did good.

  • brian cox
  • coriolanus
  • gerard butler
  • james nesbitt
  • ralph fiennes
  • vanessa redgrave