A rare and tasty piece of Shakespeare
Do you prefer to see his plays adapted as closely to the original as possible, with historically correct costumes and every line preserved as they were written? Or would you rather see a film where the play is barely more than a source of inspiration, transferring the language and the setting to the world of today?
I think I’m somewhere in between. I’m a bit skeptic to modern versions. “if they think the original is that dated and bad; why do you even bother – go write something fresh instead”. But I can also find die-hard strict set-ups immensely boring and off-putting. It’s really hard to get immersed into something where you don’t understand half of what is said.
Considering this it’s a bit of a miracle that I loved Coriolanus as much as I did.
A thin coating
I would say that it’s absolutely raw, but there’s just a thin coating covering the red meat. The setting is modern – reminding of Yugoslavia during the breakdown and wars some years ago – but the lines are kept intact, without any attempt to smooth them to fit a modern ear. And the story: “A banished hero of Rome allies with a sworn enemy to take his revenge on the city”, to use the IMDb wrap-up. It’s not a crowd-pleaser if I put it that way. No wonder this is one of the least known of Shakespeare’s plays.
Ralph Fiennes has been one of my favorite actors ever since I fell in love with him in The English Patient so many years ago. Now he’s making his debut as a director, and he’s certainly not making it easy for himself choosing this piece. As far as I understood it from interviews when it came out in Britain last autumn he had to struggle quite a bit to finance it. I’m glad that he did though, because this turned out to be one of the better Shakespeare film adoptions I’ve seen.
Winning me over
Admittedly it didn’t win me over instantly. I guess it takes a bit of time to get used to see people run around in modern military gear, spitting out lines full of “thy” and “thee” and “thou”. But what they do with those lines, what the actors speak with their bodies and souls, cuts through all those layers of dust.
“Know thou, I loved the maid I married, never man sighed truer breath. But that I see thee here, thou noble thing… more dances my rapt heart than when I first my wedded mistress saw bestride my threshold.”
This is what Gerard Butler says halfway through the movie as he greets Ralph Fiennes when he decides to switch sides in a scene so loaded that it first had me on my toes and then moved me into tears. At this point the words had ceased to be ancient and strange to me; it was pretty much a normal conversation, although a little more eloquently put than the ordinary.
Coriolanus in this shape holds up very well. It’s a timeless story about the bromance and a man’s struggle to compromise with his ideals, meeting the harsh reality. But it’s also a strikingly modern comment on the conditions that “celebrities” live under and the media logic. It only takes one slip step, a moment of unguarded honesty, and the hero will become the public enemy.
Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes, UK, 2011) My rating: 4/5