Film: ‘Coriolanus’; Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave; Director: Ralph Fiennes; Rating: ***1/2
Everyone who has been exposed to Shakespeare through theatre indulges in a life-long love affair with the Bard. And one would do whatever it took to honour him in whatever way possible. Oscar-nominated actor, theatre professional and debutant director Ralph Fiennes pays his tribute through one of the lesser known — and one of the most difficult to film — works of Shakespeare, ‘Coriolanus’.
Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes), who has suffered many bodily scars for the sake of Rome, is honoured by the Roman senate with the title of ‘Coriolanus’. Inspired by his mother, he applies, though reluctantly, for the post of Consul. However, political conspiracy sees him being banished from Rome. He seeks out his arch enemy Aufidius (Gerald Butler) of the Volscian army and asks him to kill him to spite Rome.
However, Aufidius is touched by his plight, and embraces him as a brother. Coriolanus then leads the Volscian army in an assault against Rome.
‘Coriolanus’ is the second longest of Shakespeare’s plays. It must have been a great challenge to convert it to fit into two hours, not to mention converting it for contemporary times. Yet, writer John Logan does a good job of retaining the lines of the original play while also translating Shakespeare’s usual themes of political intrigue, familial ties, anger, hatred, jealousy, and honour beautifully to the film.
Yet, the politics of the film, and the timing of its making lends a suspicious ear to its politics. Coriolanus is an unapologetic soldier of royal blood, who thinks of the masses to be no more than flies on a wall, easily swayed and unable to either make the right decision, or to keep it.
The political implications of his character in our times could be seen as encouraging the type of politics that have caused much chaos in the world where self-righteous, ruthless dictators, much in the mould of Coriolanus have caused untold damage to the world we live in. This suspicion is confirmed since there is no hint of any regret in Coriolanus. He is nothing but contemptuous of everything, especially the masses.
Fiennes is brilliant at times, and patchy in other scenes. Perhaps the director’s seat would have got him weary. And in a way, both Fiennes and the film could seem self-indulgent and boorish when looked at from another angle. However, it is Vanessa Redgrave as his mother Volumnia, who is spotless. Gerald Butler graciously plays second fiddle in a curtailed role.
The film might be a little disconcerting to Indian audiences, because of first of all the accent and then the lines having been taken straight from Shakespeare. This might make it a little hard to understand, as will seeing current times with ancient, lyrical dialogues jar in the beginning, but you’ll ease up to it in a few minutes.