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By Ben Nicholson • June 1st, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Lionsgate UK

Release date: June 4th, 2012
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 122 minutes

Director: Ralph Fiennes
Writer: John Logan

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain

I have enjoyed the stories of The Bard since an early age, when I discovered the BBC’s Shakespeare’s Animated Tales version of Macbeth and proceeded to read and watch the whole series.

My enjoyment of his work has never lessened since. However, I have never quite been able to completely get the hang of reading the language and although I am able to follow performances, there are still occasions on which I am none the wiser as to what a character has said. This is something which is always a big issue for a cinematic retelling of Shakespeare – whether to keep the original language or not – and Coriolanus not only keeps it, but makes it very accessible.


The plot revolves around Caius Marcius, a general in a modern Eastern-European styled Rome, who is disliked by the public due to his perceived distain for the proletariat. Marcius leads a successful military victory against the Volscians, enemies of Rome, including his blood enemy Aufidius and returns home to further decoration. His victory and service should allow him an almost guaranteed run at the consulship but stirrings of discontent from the Tribunes and the public, who fault Marcius for his pride, instead see him exiled. He then joins Aufidius and turns to take vengeance on the city that spurned him.

The retelling of this story, which is by all accounts one of Shakespeare’s denser plays, is extremely well executed. Ralph Fiennes and John Logan have done a fantastic job of not only paring down the original text but also in directing a series of performances that make it very understandable to a modern audience, giving it a conversational style.

This is aided by the modern setting which, Fiennes has claimed, allows actors to deliver the lines in a more natural way as they are doing very natural things such as getting into a car or pouring a drink. Also, this setting allows for the military might of Marcius to be shown and the general state of civil unrest and war translates well into this present-day grey, uniformed state of Rome.

I thought that John Snow’s cameo as a newsreader was perfectly judged and did not feel jarring at all – a scene when he turns to the advice of two studio experts felt completely natural in looking at Marcius’ divisive personality. The immediate nature of the handheld camera work (from The Hurt Locker’s Barry Ackroyd) also compliments the aesthetic and whilst it may have benefited from a little less shake at certain times, it did allow for the gritty realism of a modern action film when this was required.


The thing that really makes this film though is the level of performance across the board. Ralph Fiennes is absolutely ferocious as Marcius and although I’ve not read the play myself, I’m told that he is very true to it. What I found most impressive was the amount of empathy and understanding he was able for generate for a character who is, on the surface, quite unlikeable. When he spits venom at those who call for his head or confronting Aufidius, he is spellbinding. He does not necessarily outdo his supporting cast.

Vanessa Redgrave is also on absolutely scintillating form as his mother, Volumnia – a scene on the senate steps where she confronts the tribunes is a particular highlight. There are also great turns from Brian Cox as senator Menenius, a small but well played role for Jessica Chastain as Marcius’ wife Virgilia and James Nesbitt and Paul Jesson are perfect as Sicinius and Brutus, the tribunes who conspire against Marcius. The biggest surprise for me was how good Gerard Butler was as Aufidius; having not particularly liked him in anything since 300, I thought he was absolutely fantastic.

Coriolanus is ultimately the tragic tale of a man who has been born and raised as a soldier for Rome and who despite his successes in battle, is unable to adapt to the political world of the city when he is called t. He’s physically unable to be anything but himself even when asked by his mother who, representing Rome itself, is everything that he lives for. Due to this, he is easily outmanoeuvred by those more adept politicians and when he is banished, it is clear both why the people call for it and also what it may well cost them.


This is brilliantly shown as the camera pans around the astounded studio as Marcius makes his exit. A criticism that is often and sometimes rightly levelled at stage adaptations on film are that they do not make use of the visual medium.

In this film, however, there are lots of wonderful cinematic touches, subtly portraying more than the dialogue is attempting to. The relationship between Marcius, Volumnia and Virgilia, for instance, is interestingly directed with glances and blocking that accentuate Virgilia’s isolation as a more modern-feeling wife when compared to Marcius’ more Roman mother. Similarly, the scenes of battle in Corioli are very intense in a way that could probably not be managed on stage.

On the whole, I think the film is a triumph; it is devastating and superbly acted with a modern setting that complements the play very well and makes good use of Shakespeare’s original language.

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.

His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.

Ben has his own film site, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, and you can follow him on Twitter @BRNicholson.

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