Directed by: Ralph Fiennes
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain
Sassi\’s star rating: 3.5/5
Coriolanus, the play T.S Elliot once ardently defended as Shakespeare\’s greatest tragedy in his 1919 essay Hamlet and His Problems, is often overlooked. Admittedly it took me a few tries to get through the often weighty prose. And it has its Hamlet\’s, its Macbeth\’s, and its Othello\’s to compete with, you see. But no, Elliot declared, Coriolanus is one that\’s really worth reading; and director of the new film version, Ralph Fiennes, no doubt agrees.
Luckily, you can be a bit foggy on the play, or really have never read it at all, and still be able to enjoy Fiennes\’ latest take.
Set in modern day Rome, and filmed in Belgrade, Coriolanus is a dark and violent political thriller that clashes sharp, contemporary imagery with Shakespeare\’s well loved language.
Rome is at war with neighbouring state Volces, and its people are starving. While the rich live out an unaffected life in their mansions, people live in shanties on the street, rioting for change. It\’s not a hard situation to imagine, with images of the Occupy Wallstreet protests, and Cape of Africa famine still fresh in audience\’s minds. Protesters in particular clash with one person, Marcius (later known as Coriolanus), the privileged military General who has no sympathy for the masses.
But when Marcius survives a battle against vicious guerrilla army led by his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), he is proclaimed a hero for his services, and is urged to take the high position of Consul in the senate. Coriolanus rejects the plea, wanting nothing to do with the political pandering he must undertake to gain the sympathy of the masses he despises. His mother, the ambitious Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) has worked towards her son\’s success all his life, and convinces him to take the position.
But, as the Shakespearian formula goes, the very things that make Marcius Corolanius a hero, will also be his downfall. His pride, his stubbornness, and his sense of personal honour, will lead directly to his ruin. Considering everything that has unfolded in Australian politics over the past few weeks, it\’s an old story that couldn\’t be timelier.
Coriolanus is at times confronting in its violence, so anyone settling for a night of upper-lip pomp might be shocked. Ralph Fiennes\’ shaved head coated in blood, his piercing blue eyes staring out between the red streams, is not one I will forget any time soon. It\’s not the first time he has played Coriolanus, and he is as strong in front of the camera as he is behind it in his directorial dÃ©but. Vanessa Redgrave is as wonderful as always, and surely a reason in herself to see the film. Newcomer Jessica Chastain holds her own against the extended cast of heavyweights.
A classic tale of human folly, with worryingly contemporary equivalents; Coriolanus is recommended viewing for political thriller and Shakespeare fans, essential viewing for select Canberra residents.
Â Coriolanus is in cinemas now.
Category: Film & TV