Fiennes' Coriolanus: a bloody brilliant Shakespeare thriller

Jan 20, 2012

A dazzling cast and skilful adaptation update this difficult Shakespeare tale for an age of uprisings

What you need to know

Ralph Fiennes directs this screen adaptation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus. Fiennes, who also plays the title role in the film, is known for his intense, brooding and often dangerous characters, from Voldemort in Harry Potter to the tortured lover in The English Patient. Fiennes has also played Coriolanus on stage.
The film relocates Shakespeare's play, based on the life of the legendary Roman leader Caius Marcius Coriolanus, to the modern-day Balkans. Known as one of Shakespeare's more difficult plays, it tells a bloody tale of hubris, revenge and betrayal and the mixed blessing of being a man of the people.
Fiennes shot the film on a tight £5.2 million budget in Belgrade over a ten-week period. Vanessa Redgrave plays Volumina, Coriolanus's ambitious mother, and Gerard Butler plays Aufidius, Coriolanus's mortal enemy. Tree of Life star Jessica Chastain plays Coriolanus's despairing wife.
What the critics like

Ralph Fiennes is on firm footing with Shakespeare's great political thriller, says Angie Errigo in Empire. He has already given the lead role "a mesmerising theatre run". As director he is assured, delivering an exciting, ironic film, with "accomplished performances and the tension of topical themes - this is Shakespeare as relevant as you like it".
Ralph Fiennes's Coriolanus is bloody brilliant, says Ray Bennett in The Hollywood Reporter. "It's a tough, violent and moving tragedy with splendid performances" and in an age of revolution, it's a timely reminder of the perils of moving from warrior to head of state. "It could be sold as a straightforward action picture and should not put off those who find Shakespeare daunting."
Fiennes lives and breathes the role of the aloof and implacable general, says Anthony Quinn in The Independent. It's "a good fit for this cold-eyed, cerebral actor". Vanessa Redgrave is passionate and assured in her verse speaking, and even Gerard Butler, whose name normally makes the heart sink, gives a "fine, sinewy" performance.
What they don't like

Coriolanus may be driven by noble ideals, but he regards the public with barely concealed patrician scorn, says Trevor Johnson in Time Out. "As such, this isn't a piece to warm to, but Fiennes the performer attacks it with such vivid urgency we reluctantly forgo a certain emotional resonance."
In general the modern touches such as the TV news motifs work well, says Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian, but the cameo from Channel Four's Jon Snow "is a gimmicky misjudgement" reminiscent of Tony Blair's appearance for Comic Relief with Catherine Tate.  
Robbie Collin in The Daily Telegraph agrees. "The presence of Jon Snow, updating us on TV screens as the situation evolves, is unavoidably distracting and un-Balkan." The second half of the film also needs more honing and Fiennes's performance is "not always disciplined". Still, the lack of a Bafta nomination for some of the best acting in Vanessa Redgrave's career is "mysterious".

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