Ralph Fiennes’s new take on Coriolanus is the latest Shakespeare classic brought to vibrant life on the big screen. BARBARA HODGSON reviews the film ahead of tomorrow’s release and recalls similar successes
AFTER Ralph Fiennes starred in Coriolanus on the London stage over a decade ago, he was left with a nagging feeling of unfinished business.
So his decision to revisit the role on film – making his directorial debut at the same time – might well complete a personal journey but then we all get to enjoy the ride in what is a fast and furious political thriller giving us Shakespeare that we can all connect with.
It has the relevant ingredients, after all: political divisions and spin, a leader out of touch with the people, unrest and the threat of uprising.
Making it even more real and relevant to today’s world is the inspired decision to set the film in Serbia, Fiennes’s bloody general drawing obvious parallels with a Balkan warlord. Modern gadgetry and rolling news footage (there’s an appearance by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News) help to smooth out the difficulties of Shakespeare’s – heavily cut – text.
Hand-held cameras capture frenetic scenes of jumpy crowds and war-torn streets and bring us up close to bloody combat with exploding shells and a shaven-headed Fiennes dripping blood (and resembling his Voldemort character in Harry Potter).
The former RSC star (in Newcastle 20 years ago in Troilus and Cressida) delivers an acting tour-de-force as the questionable military hero who fatally refuses to pander to the public and whose alliance with former enemy Tullus (Gerard Butler) crumbles in the face of an impassioned speech by his mother Volumnia.
Here, Vanessa Redgrave, as the proud matriarch, is as fine as ever, as is Brian Cox as old pal Menenius. Their scenes, set in the contrasting calm of the family home, where Coriolanus is equally out of step, or over whisky in smoky bars, also show how Shakespeare’s powerful stories can be told through film.