Coriolanus (15)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner20/01/2012

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 122 mins

Impressively staged and featuring mostly terrific performances, this is an undeniably worthy adaptation but it's hampered by the fact that this is a fairly dull play in the first place.

What's it all about?
Produced and directed by Ralph Fiennes, Coriolanus is based on the play by William Shakespeare but updated to contemporary times. Set in “a place calling itself Rome” (but actually shot in Serbia and resembling a deserted London council estate), Fiennes stars as Coriolanus, a returning war hero-turned-politician whose refusal to court the public's favour leads to his exile from Rome, engineered in part by two rival Tribunes, Sicinius (James Nesbitt) and Brutus (Paul Jesson).

However, when Coriolanus encounters his former, recently defeated enemy Tullus Aufidius (a heavily bearded Gerard Butler), the latter is moved by his plight and the pair join forces and return to Rome to take revenge.

The Good
This is an impressively staged adaptation and the updating to contemporary times is remarkably effective, making clever use of news programmes and the like to tell the story and strongly evincing the intended parallels with modern-day politics. The battle scenes are nicely handled too and there are some striking images, most notably a blood-soaked Fiennes striding through the war zone to confront Aufidius.

Needless to say, the performances are excellent: Fiennes brings a steely intensity to the title role, while Vanessa Redgrave is riveting as Coriolanus' ambitious mother Volumnia (if she plays her cards right she could wind up with a Best Supporting Actress nomination) and there's strong support from the always-excellent Brian Cox as Coriolanus' friend Menenius. Similarly, Gerard Butler acquits himself nicely as Aufidius, though the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain is completely wasted as Coriolanus' wife Virgilia and barely even has any lines.

The Bad
The main problem with the film is that, unless you've studied it at school or university, the play just isn't all that exciting – indeed, the actual plot is rather slight and doesn't carry the emotional weight of, say, Julius Caesar, despite also being based on the life of a real-life Roman leader. Similarly, the decision to cast Jon Snow (who gamely speaks his lines in iambic pentameter) as the newsreader backfires considerably because it elicits howls of unintentional laughter and immediately jars you out of the film.

Worth seeing?
The staging and performances are commendable and the film will doubtless prove a huge hit with Shakespeare students everywhere, but Coriolanus never really comes to life and fails to engage on an emotional level.

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Content updated: 20/07/2018 05:38

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