I lack any of the skills needed to write a satisfactory synopsis for Coriolanus, one of Shakespeare’s more complex plays so instead I point you towards Wikipedia to set the scene fully. Ralph Fiennes directs himself as Roman general Caius Martius, at first celebrated for fighting off rival forces from the Volscian army but later banished from Rome due to complicated political plotting. To take revenge on the city that betrayed him Martius joins the Volscian army, turning against his family and joining forces with his blood enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). Coriolanus being one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, things don’t end well.
Fiennes and writer John Logan have brought Coriolanus into the modern-day, not through the dialogue but certainly in the setting; now a war-torn contemporary city filled with gunfire and explosions. The start of the film is incredibly intense, filled with loud gun fights, Shakespearean shouting and plenty of blood. This is all a bit much before 10am on a Sunday morning and it’s a relief once this all dies down when we can get back to studied dialogue and acting we Brits do so well.
That’s not to say that the Shakespearean shouting is all done. Ralph Fiennes seems unable to rein himself in as he spits his way through every monologue, trying to reach the back row of the upper circle but instead coming on a little strong considering he is in close-up rather than on stage. The rest of the cast, Vanessa Redgrave, James Nesbitt, Brian Cox and Jessica Chastain, give much more understated and cinema friendly performances. As a director Fiennes is restrained; keeping the camera moving but allows room for the actors to strut their stuff.
The highlight of the film is the appearance of Jon Snow as a newsreader, surprisingly comfortable with Shakespeare’s dialogue and a big help in grounding the film in our reality. Gerard Butler also impressed with his best work to date.
Coriolanus is a fine modern adaptation of nobody’s favourite play, suffering a little from overacting and a slightly saggy plot.
Coriolanus is in UK cinemas on 20th January 2012.