In Rome, the citizens are hungry and Coriolanus, the Roman hero hates the citizens. They have used him to their advantage and then banished him from the city and to get even, he teams up with the enemy, Tullus Aufidius. This is a film adaptation of the play of the same name by William Shakespeare and is one of the plays that many are unfamiliar with and is rarely seen. It has remained as one of the Bard’s unpopular plays and one reason is that Coriolanus, the man, has disdain for popularity. He (Caius Martius Coriolanus played by Ralph Fiennes) is the kind of soldier who only feels at home when he is at war but makes the mistake of listening to family and politicians to enter the political arena something he has no interest in or desire for. He is a man of action and not of words.
Fiennes who played Coriolanus on the London stage is fascinated by the character and it was his idea to film the play and he wears the role like a glove. He is a subtle villain and we see “Coriolanus” as a modern war film, Fiennes updated the location to modern Rome and gives a surprising new look at an old work.
There is no question that the film is set in modern times as we see news broadcasts and cell phones and although the film is set in Rome, it could be set anywhere that is experiencing war. The Romans are experiencing a food shortage and will not heed the televised announcements of the politicians that all will be fine soon. Coriolanus leads a coup that is put down by police but the government is more concerned with an old border dispute than the hunger of the citizens of Rome. Aufidius (Gerard Butler) sends a webcast of the execution of a Roman soldier to the Roman politicians and Now Coriolanus is eager to lead the Roman army against the threatening forces. The Volscians led by Aufidius and the Romans are bitter, long-standing enemies and Coriolanus defeats them and returns home a war hero but with battle scars. This is when he receives the title of Coriolanus which is added to his name and he becomes Caius Martius Coriolanus. Hailed as a hero, he is convinced to run for the office of Consul and his mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave in yet another magnificent performance) urges her son on to take the office. Virgilia (Jessica Chastain), his wife questions the idea. Coriolanus reluctantly agrees but the opposition is strong and they try to turn the Roman citizenry against him. They are able to make the crowd rise to frenzy and they decide that Coriolanus must be banished.
He goes on to wander the countryside of Rome and ultimately comes to the Antium, the capital of the Volscians where he is not recognized and he offers to join with them so that he can avenge his banishment and he and Aufidius come to terms. When Rome hears of this the politicians and citizens become terrified and diplomatic missions to stop Coriolanus come to nil. They send his mother, wife and young son to reason with him and a treaty is signed but Coriolanus can never return home to Rome. Likewise, the Volscians do not want him around and he becomes a man without a country and without a cause.
The modern setting gives the character of Coriolanus a context—that of a professional soldier and he becomes a man who is not comfortable except when at war. He becomes frustrated when not fighting and he dislikes everyone except his soldiers. His mother understands him and we sense that Volumnia truly loves her son and this makes his wife seem to be a secondary or tertiary character in his life. This is high drama at its highest and finest—all of the performances are excellent and Redgrave is above brilliant.
- Posted in: Film