Coriolanus – Review - Ralph Fiennes's directorial debut is a triumph
Category: Coriolanus Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: February 15, 2011 | Publication: The Guardian | Author: Andrew Pulver
Publication/Article Link:The Guardian
Reconfigured as a study of modern warfare, complete with news channel inserts, Ralph Fiennes's directorial debut is a triumph
Ralph Fiennes played Coriolanus on stage more than a decade ago, and presumably it seemed like a safe choice with which to embark on a directorial career; like Kenneth Branagh before him with Henry V (and Laurence Olivier before him, with the same play), high-achieving theatre actors will be confident, and entirely credible, in their handling of the intricacies of the Shakespearean text. It's ironic, therefore, that the best film Shakespeares tend to be furthest removed from the British stage tradition: foreign-language versions such as Kurosawa's Throne of Blood and Ran, and Kozintsev's King Lear, don't need to worry about getting the poetry right. The most interesting English-language ones, such as Derek Jarman's Tempest and Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books, affix their own preoccupations to the Shakespearean motifs, and essentially turn the play into something else entirely.
Production year: 2010
Directors: Ralph Fiennes
Cast: Brian Cox, Gerard Butler , Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave
More on this film
It's immediately evident that Fiennes isn't doing anything especially drastic, conceptually, to the play. His Coriolanus is one that pays due attention to the text and the lineaments of classic drama. Not that this is a static, interpretation-free response: Coriolanus, being a drama about the relationship of authority, power, and the emotions that drive them, is reconfigured as a study of a modern Balkan-type state, racked with factional warfare and all the attendant cruelties.
In truth, it's a very "theatre" way of going about things, and easily done on stage: film-makers have often struggled to establish the level of detail a cinematic rendering requires.
That's not the case here. Coriolanus, of course, is originally set in pre-imperial Rome: the drama turns on Coriolanus's refusal to court the favour of the Roman people after a string of military successes sees him propelled toward election as a consul – only for political machinations to see him expelled from the city, and to trigger a lust for revenge on Rome. This would seem a natural fit for Fiennes and writer John Logan's transposition of the action to a modern state racked by civil war and political infighting. Fiennes, and his cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (fresh from The Hurt Locker), pull off some frankly shattering combat scenes, as Fiennes's Coriolanus leads his men in a room-by-room firefight with Gerard Butler's Aufidius. Butler, a tough, beefy presence, is at his lowering best during a memorably nasty sequence in which a prisoner of war is consigned to a gruesome underground torture chamber.
But the great strength of Fiennes's film is simply its clarity and intelligence. He's clearly paid a great deal of detailed attention to how the narrative and the interplay of character is to work – vital in Shakespeare films that can easily get bogged down in versification. No doubt he's helped by the plainness of much of Coriolanus's language, which means there is less precious material that can't be cut. Some of the storytelling devices are a little flip – there are regular Sky News-style video inserts that don't do the film's seriousness any favours – but they don't disrupt the careful geometry of action that Fiennes sets out.
It also means that, as a performance, his Coriolanus doesn't hog attention, even though he's the focus of the action. He has, understandably, given himself some eye-catching scenes: head drenched in blood during his fights, and pacing the halls of government buildings in an agony of resentment at the demands of the population. But Fiennes has exercised commendable restraint, allowing others to shine too. He can congratulate himself that his first film as a director is a fine achievement.