Thursday, November 29, 2012

Movie Review: Coriolanus


This production of Shakespeare's Coriolanus  is the first production that I've seen, nor had I read it before. (By the way, this link is useful; also, it comforted me that  the great Shakespearean scholar A.C. Bradley and other agree with my sense of this play.) Directed and starring Ralph Fiennes in the title role, its an intense but not especially revealing drama. Similar to the Richard III filmed starring Ian McKellen from several years ago, it "updates" Shakespeare by using a contemporary setting. Indeed, as both films revolve around characters who make their mark in battle (and by general violence, with Richard), they are quite similar in this regard. Both reference fascist and militarist props--costumes, set design, and lots of guns & tanks--to set the scene. All of this works reasonably well, which is reassuring, because some contemporary settings for Shakespeare fizzle for me. One does, however, have to set aside the fact that until the advent of guns,  most fighting in both military and day-to-day situations was done hand-to-hand. (Okay, okay, I haven't forgotten Agincourt, but you get my point.) Guns take away this immediacy, but this production worked around this issue fairly well. 

Fiennes is a dynamic, raging, and proud Coriolanus, one that seems to fit the bill. Vanessa Redgrave as his mother, hautily proud, domineering, and ambitious for her son, provides a very compelling figure. Throw in Gerard Butler as Auffidius, the nemisis of Coriolanus, Brian Cox as Coriolanus' would-be mentor, and a pair of tribunes who play the roles of political hacks wonderfully, and you have a very sound production. 

In the end, Coriolanus isn't as compelling as Shakespeare's great tragedies, even of those about grasping for power, like Macbeth, but it does give us a strong image of the world of militarism, caesarism, mobacracy that we can still find in our world today. For this, it is worth seeing.