A modern-day spin on one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays, Coriolanus is an ambitious and lyrical Greek tragedy that has everything you’d expect from the mind of the Bard; betrayal, revenge, pride, conflict, monologues, dilemmas, death- it’s all in there. The only thing missing is a star-crossed lover or two.
Both its star and director, Ralph Fiennes follows past masters Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh onto the breach in this doomy and demanding directorial debut that may signal a new and exciting direction for the steely-eyed actor.
Set in a city on the verge of collapse that resembles Tripoli but calls itself Rome, the film charts the rise and fall of general Coriolanus (Fiennes); a fiery soldier of war-torn Rome who earns his stripes in a bloody battle against an insurgent army lead by Turrus (Gerard Butler). In the aftermath of a brutal bullet storm and knife fight, Coriolanus emerges victorious and is branded the symbol of a new and prosperous empire. It doesn’t work out. The decorated vet is more brawn than brains; his strong sense of pride coupled with the dirty work of corrupt bureaucrats and advisors lead to civil unrest and, in turn, a verbal attack by Coriolanus‘ on the people of Rome which results in his banishment from the city. Bitter, betrayed and hell-bent on revenge, the spitting outlaw seeks refuge and redemption in who else but his sworn enemy, Turrus.
Swapping the frantic razzmatazz of Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo and Juliet retool for a far more gritty and paced approach, Fiennes has crafted a brave and bombastic drama that’ll probably find its way onto a school curriculum or two before the year is out. And why not? His contemporary vision of a 300+ year old morality play is one awash with thought, feeling, values, complexities, politics and emotion – pure, unadulterated Shakespeare.
Coriolanus is far from the vision of just one man, though. Gladiator screenwriter Josh Lucas lays the necessary footing for Fiennes and Hurt Locker cinematographer Barry Ackroyd to bring the tale to life. Stirling support also comes in the shape of seasoned thesps Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, James Nesbitt and….Gerard Butler; all of which are new to big-screen Shakespeare yet convincing nonetheless. Even Butler.
The screen belongs to a raw and rampant Ralph Fiennes, though. More than just a noseless sorcerer, Fiennes is an exceptional actor and, now, promising director whose verbose and gung-ho approach from both behind and in front of the lens makes for a fascinating commitment. “Such is the work of a man”. Olivier and Branagh would be proud. Coriolanus will have Shakespeare enthusiasts chomping-at-the-bit and students scrambling for the exits.
Coriolanus (2012), directed by Ralph Fiennes, is distributed on Blu-ray disc and DVD by Lionsgate, Certificate 15. It is released in the UK on June 4.