Coriolanus is set in ‘a place called Rome’, here imagined as a modern war torn Baltic state General Caius Marcius (played by Fiennes) is named Coriolanus due to excellent skill in war and violence and the like. Skills that have no place in the world of political office, a world into which he is maneuvered into by his mother (a stand out Vanessa Redgrave) and Menenius (Brian Cox). He soon learns that his brash, near-psychopathic ways aren’t the most popular with the common folk and maybe he has more in common with sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Butler).
It might seem to damn with faint praise but the actors speak their lines really well. Brian Cox is especially great at conveying the emotion and intent behind the language. Material like this can be difficult to get across, especially to an audience unfamiliar with the source; it isn’t like there’s a Disney version with talking Lions that can be seen beforehand. This clarity is maintained in the way the play has been pruned by scribe John Logan in order to bring to the fore the ever-relevant themes of war, family and power. This, along with some great action scenes, makes the film more like a pacey war pic than a dry stage play.
The performances are all strong (including Gerard Butler) but special mention must be given to Vanessa Redgrave. She so dominates every scene she’s in that you remember her being in it more than she was. In a crucial moment she convinces Coriolanus of a course of action crucial to the plot. The way this scene is written it seems like an implausible plot contrivance but so steely is Redgrave, so masterly does she deliver the speech that it seems like the most logical thing in the world. That is truly brilliant acting; to not just bring the text to life but to improve it.
Much has been made of cameo from TV newsreader John Snow, who plays a TV newsreader that pops up to deliver exposition. I quite enjoyed him here and it was an efficient way to convey information. He played a newsreader well, though I’m not sure how much range he has. He shouldn’t give up the day job.
The film isn’t perfect of course, some of the crowd scenes make little sense on the more epic canvas of the cinema and some of the motivations of the secondary characters seem unclear.
Largely, this is most impressive work by Fiennes; he took an inaccessible, largely unknown Shakespeare and turned into one of the best adaptations in years. It helps that it was cast exceedingly well and tightly scripted. This bodes very well for our Ralph’s directorial future.
A meaty commentary by Fiennes is joined by a frankly bizarre behind the scenes doc hosted by Will Young (yes that one). It’s chummy, mainly inconsequential but there are a few nuggets of good info there. The real mystery is, why is it presented by Will Young? Is he auditioning for more presenting work? If so why choose a DVD special feature? Couldn’t his agent get him something better? An IMDB search reveals that Young is Executive Producer on the film. But what does that mean? Did he fund some of the film just so he could present the Making Of..? I need answers!