A Convert to Coriolanus

This is my review of Coriolanus [DVD] [2011].

Although based on a dark, grim and bloodthirsty Shakespearean tragedy, I was very impressed by this film which I went to see with some trepidation.

Well-paced and not excessively violent (compared to what it could have been) the acting is excellent, the words spoken with such expression and clarity that the sense comes through very strongly, even to someone like me unfamiliar with the text. It does not bother me that some passages and plot details may have been omitted in the interests of making the plot easier to digest. Likewise, a dialogue which sounds at time surprisingly modern compensates for the lack of any memorable "To be or not to be"-style soliloquies which may not come across well in a film.

The modern setting is not irritating and gratuitous as is too often the case, but also enabled me to see the film's relevance to our divided and violent world. Rome is represented as a typical concrete western city, ruled by the cynical "haves" ("patricians") while the mass of "have-nots" are beginning to riot over lack of bread, although they are easily swayed by cunning politicians.

Rome is under threat from a Balkan-type community called the Volscians, against whom the professional soldier Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) gains a celebrated victory over the city of Corioles, thus being rewarded with the surname "Coriolanus". This leads naturally to his appointment as a consul, but "honest to a fault", he refuses to conceal his contempt for the people. His political enemies play on this to get him banished, which of course turns him from a loyal supporter of Rome to a man bent on revenge.

On a personal level, this is an interesting psychological study of pride, fanaticism and jealousy. The complex relationship between Coriolanus and his mother Volumnia, played brilliantly by Vanessa Redgrave, shows how a strong man may be controlled as a tool of his physically weaker but mentally stronger mother's ambition.

If I had studied this play at school, I think I might have hated it – although a good teacher enabled me to appreciate the drama of Julius Caesar. Hopefully, this intelligent modern rendition may enable many students – and general viewers as well – to understand and value this very interesting play.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

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