Shakespeare November: Coriolanus (2011)

Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus

The directorial debut by Ralph Fiennes of one of the least known Shakespeare Plays, “Coriolanus” concerns itself with the nature of power, war, and family.  The writing by Shakespeare presents a picture where the nature of power becomes corrupted and where War is often used for the benefit of oneself, and not for the glory of the state.  Fiennes using this story by Shakespeare to great effect, in a stunning directorial debut and performance.

The plot of the film concerns itself with the actions of Caius Maritus Coriolanus (Fiennes) as he goes from soldier of Rome to enemy of Rome throughout the course of the movie.  Coriolanus often looks down on the common Roman People, and believes that they are nothing but leeches compared to the military class.  Through his foolhardiness and the manipulation of the people through opposition Roman Senators, Coriolanus is banished and takes up arms with his old enemy Aufidius (Gerard Butler). As they march on Rome, only the intervention of his Mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and his Wife (Jessica Chastain) prevent Coriolanus from ramsacking the city, thereby saving Rome, but forcing Coriolanus to death by his newly found allies.

Fiennes decides to set his film during a dystopian present day where cable news informs the citizens of Rome (which resemble a modern day Britain or United States), and where the military are held in the highest power.  This setting is a stroke of genius on Fiennes’ part: the fact that is set in the present day allows the audience to relate more to the film and ultimately heightens the themes of what Shakespeare is saying about power.  What Shakespeare is saying is that a person is beholden to the population in which he serves, and that the common people must be respected.  Even though this is a major theme, there is also a differing theme that says the common people can be easily manipulated into acting like a mob.  This occurs when the senators Sicinius (James Nesbitt) and Brutus (Paul Jeeson) incite the crowd into rejecting Coriolanus as Counsel, even though they just approved him.

Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain

The themes of war and family are also present throughout the film.  Coriolanus is obsessed with war and believes that war is the only thing that proves a man.  This attitude is shown to be ridiculous though through the realistic battle scenes that are presented throughout the movie that recall the real-life Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosinian War.  Coriolanus is shown as a cold-blooded killer, one where war is not prone to honor, but to show how much of a murderer he is.  It is not until the final scene where Coriolanus’ family begs him to spare the city of Rome that he realizes the true error his ways: that war only breeds suffering and that a man’s real worth is with his family.

Filled with great themes and great performances (although Jessica Chastain was distracting with her obviously fake British accent), Coriolanus deserves to be apart of the great tradition of Shakespeare on film, especially in pushing the source material to a new and interesting interpretation.

Fun Fact: As said before, this was Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut.

Final Review: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.




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