Business rating: 1.5 / 5 stars (One-and-a-half stars)
Star cast: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain.
What’s Good: The script; the performances; the masterful adaptation of a classic tragedy to the contemporary context; the direction.
What’s Bad: The fact that the dialogues in the film are Shakespeare’s original (in Old English), will put off many people because they are difficult to comprehend; the drama that drags towards the end.
Verdict: Coriolanus is a fine film meant for connoisseurs of good cinema. However, it will fail to do much at the Indian box-office.
Loo break: None. Or several, if you fail to understand a major part of the Old English dialogues.
Watch or Not?: Watch it for the excellent performances and because the story of Shakespeare’s tragedy still holds relevance.
Lonely Dragon, BBC Films and Tanweer Films’ Coriolanus is a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s play of the same name. The film mixes the classical and the contemporary; it retains Shakespeare’s language and characters, but places the drama in the contemporary age.
The citizens of Rome are hungry while Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) – a feared General and the hero of Rome, who is a great soldier but who despises the people – guards the government’s grain stocks. Soon, riots break out. The streets of Rome are bloodied when Martius’ sworn enemy, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), from the neighbouring territory, tries to take advantage of the situation. Martius strikes back and wins hands down after a fearsome and bloody battle, proving, yet again, his unflinching loyalty to Rome. He is feted by the government and is conferred with the celebratory title, ‘Coriolanus’.
Pushed by his loving but demanding mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), and a friendly senator, Menenius (Brian Cox), Coriolanus reticently applies for the exalted position of Consul, but he neither wants to seek the people’s love and adoration nor does he want to recount his illustrious war record to them.
After he passes a few traditional tests in order to be appointed Consul, two tribunes (representatives of the public) turn the tide against him. As he tries to put things together, and control his anger, one thing leads to another, and soon, Coriolanus is banished from Rome. He then goes and joins hands with the enemy, Aufidius, and offers his services to bring down Rome. How is he able to do that? How do his family and friends react? Does Tullus Aufidius trust his new deputy? All these questions are answered in the remaining portion of the drama.
Coriolanus Review: Script Analysis
John Logan’s screenplay is a masterful adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play. In retaining the original dialogues and yet making the drama contemporary, the writer loses out on the youth audience but achieves two things: he makes the narrative seem real, yet captures the force of Shakespeare’s powerful prose. The strong characters, of course, also remain the same. The adaptation of modern elements like high-tech weaponry, televised debates, etc., into the narrative makes for interesting viewing.
While this rather strange juxtaposition might put off many viewers in India, those with who have read the original play, are familiar with the plot, or have the patience for this kind of an experiment, will enjoy the narrative completely. Not to forget that the screenplay does retain – and in certain cases, even amplifies – all the elements of the original: high-intensity drama, heartrending emotions, patriotism, revenge, etc. Besides the bloody civil war, there’s even a hand-to-hand knife fight!
Coriolanus Review: Star Performances
Ralph Fiennes is the life of the film. He lives the role of Caius Martius Coriolanus and is ferocious, ruthless, proud and even tender when required. His dialogue delivery is effortless. Gerard Butler does a fair job as Tullus Aufidius. However, his performance pales in comparison with that of Fiennes’. Vanessa Redgrave, as the mother, is simply remarkable. The scene where she chides her son to change his attitude towards the people is memorable. Brian Cox, as the well-meaning but crafty Menenius, leaves a mark. Jessica Chastain (as Virgilia, Coriolanus’ wife) is alright in a bit role. Paul Jesson (as Tribune Brutus) and James Nesbitt (as Tribune Sicinius) perform well. Lubna Azabal (as First Citizen), Ashraf Barhom (as Second Citizen) and others offer good support.
Coriolanus Review: Direction & Techincal Aspects
Ralph Fiennes makes a very good directorial debut. His narrative holds the viewer’s attention but the dialogues in old and flowery English will prove to be a major minus point. Although the drama is lax towards the end, he manages to more than make up for it with the impactful climax. Ilan Eshkeri’s background score takes the director’s vision forward. Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography is excellent, especially in the fight sequences. Production design, by Ricky Eyres, is effective. Editing, by Nicolas Gaster, is sharp.
Coriolanus Review: The Last Word
On the whole, Coriolanus is a fine film for the discerning audience. But it will not be liked by a large section of the audience because of the language problem. It will do limited business mainly in select multiplexes of the Indian cities.