Reviewed by Elise Chamberlain

As part of the 55th BFI London Film Festival  award-winning actor and first-time director Ralph Fiennes brings us Shakespeare’s Coriolanus; a production which rivals Baz Luhrmann’s iconic Romeo and Juliet (1996) for the title of best modern Shakespeare adaptation.

Fiennes is both in front of the camera playing the inherently flawed hero, Caius Martius Coriolanus, and behind the camera in this, his directorial debut. He teams with screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator) and works alongside the ruggedly handsome Gerard Butler, the timeless Vanessa Redgrave and renowned Shakespeare enthusiast, Brian Cox. Add to this who’s who of British cinema, Fiennes placing Shakespeare’s Rome in modern-day Belgrade, Serbia, and you have a flawless adaptation of this more unheralded of Shakespeare’s plays. 

Coriolanus is the story of a Caius Martius, a Roman general who, in his raw desire for war and struggle against conformity, destroys his life. He revolts against the ideologies which seek to change him from a warrior to a war hero and rejects the persona his family, namely his she-wolf of a mother, and country have tirelessly worked to establish. He is a general forced fresh from the front line into the unfamiliar role of a politician; a position he neither fits nor desires. After the wavering support of the people for Coriolanus is finally withdrawn he is exiled. The beaten and scarred formerly honoured general eventually finds himself at the feet of his long-standing Vosican enemy Tullus Aufidus (Gerard Butler) in a wild fit of rage, vowing revenge against Rome.

 It is immediately evident that Fiennes, who acted Coriolanus on stage over a decade ago, has been careful to preserve the poetry of Shakespeare. Led by Fiennes and Redgrave, cast members deliver lines in such a naturalistic manner that when combined with the familiar scenery of a modern war torn Balkan-like state makes for an accessible adaptation. This naturalistic manner is undoubtedly down to the decision for cast members to stay true to their natural dialect; something which initially causes confusion but quickly makes for a more personal performance from each actor. He has clearly paid close attention to the text, only cutting to alleviate the confusion which easily arises when reading this complex work. 

This powerful piece of cinematography is gripping from start to finish, filled with ear-splitting battles and ending with a particularly resonate musical lament to the problematic General Martius.

 The brilliance of Fiennes’ directorial debut is this ability to faultlessly configure Shakespearean language into a modern-day setting. Monologues are recorded on mobile phones and we, the audience, are updated about breaking political news by the familiar face of Jon Snow; just two examples of how Fiennes’ creates a familiar world for his audience and breaks down the barriers of unfamiliarity which so often resonate in Shakespeare adaptations. 

I am yet to see Ralph Fiennes in a disappointing film and I now am now yet to see him disappoint as a director. His Coriolanus is textually accurate, brilliantly interpreted and visual pleasing.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.