Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes, 2011): UK

Reviewed by Byron Potau. Viewed at The Egyptian Theatre as part of the 2011 AFI Film Festival.


In his directorial debut, Ralph Fiennes meshes Shakespearean dialogue with a modern setting in Coriolanus. The two styles drown out each other leaving us with a very muddled take on one of Shakespeare’s lesser known tragedies.

Citizens are rioting in protest of the military withholding stores of grain from them in favor of themselves. The protest is quelled, but not before General Caius Martius Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) openly berates them for their audacity in protesting and for their lack of appreciation for himself and the military.

Coriolanus then goes into battle where he meets up with his sworn enemy, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). Their battle ends in a draw, but Coriolanus pushes the invading army out of their territory and returns to his home a hero. However, once in a political world a couple of politicians conspire against Coriolanus and turn the people against him resulting in Coriolanus being banished. Coriolanus then seeks out Tullus Aufidius to help him lead an army and take revenge on the country that banished him.

First time director Ralph Fiennes attempts to make the film too modern, forcing it to be relevant to today’s situations rather than letting it be interpreted that way. His close up happy verite style of shaky handheld cameras and television news footage doesn’t fit Shakespeare’s tragedy very well.

This style also does little to enhance any of the performances and seems to do more to stunt them than anything. This along with the Shakespearean dialogue spoken in this modern setting makes for very awkward performances at times.

Fiennes appears to be making two films here that he tries to put together like two pieces of different puzzles. He would have done better to make a straight up version of Coriolanus which seems more in his grasp. Here he just seems to have been too ambitious in his debut.

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