The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A rare and tasty piece of Shakespeare

with 26 comments

How do you like your Shakespeare? Do you want him rare, medium or well done?

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

Written by Jessica

June 21, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Posted in Coriolanus

26 Responses

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  1. I love this movie too! In fact, I bought the Blu-ray and it’s definitely worth it. I’ve been waiting for 2 yrs to see it because I’m a big fan of Butler and he certainly did not disappoint. I’m glad Fiennes cast him, and the scene where that quote appear, wow, that was quite breathtaking. Great review, Jessica.


    June 21, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    • Thanks Ruth! To be honest Butler wasn’t a actor that I’ve payed attention to before, but now that I’ve seen him I have a bit of a crush on him. 🙂

      I rented the film but I could definitely imagine myself watching it again, now that I’m more aquainted with the style of it, which takes a little bit of time.


      June 21, 2012 at 11:20 pm

      • Oh my, now you’re speaking my language 😀 I talk about Butler a LOT on my blog, he’s been the subject of my crush for the last 6 yrs 😀 He’s such a versatile actor but really under-appreciated as people only think of him in 300 and those dreadful rom-coms. I have seen Coriolanus twice, the second one w/ commentary on 😀


        June 21, 2012 at 11:22 pm

        • You’re a crush veteran then! 🙂 I will go to you for advice on how to proceed in my crushiness.


          June 21, 2012 at 11:27 pm

          • Now, now ladies! Stop fighting over the handsome Scotman. There’s plenty more 😉

            Mark Walker

            June 22, 2012 at 9:04 am

  2. hmmm I have been wanting to check this out since I first saw the trailer a few months ago. Glad to hear the film is worth a watch. I could see it taking a little getting used to the old english in the film. Well unless you have been reading some of the Bard of Avon lately.


    June 22, 2012 at 1:31 am

    • Go ahead and read a bit of it so you’re in the right mindset! I really think it’s worth watching. Some very good acting here, despite the hard-to-pronounce lines.


      June 22, 2012 at 1:37 am

  3. Lukewarm and then i´m being nice probably cause I have Fiennes as one of my favorite actors.
    I had two problems with the movie.
    The Story is not especially interesting, i don´t care if Colerianus lives or dies.
    I hadn´t any problems with the setting but the adaptation of the play wasn´t any good. It landed somewhere between modern language and Shakespeares style. I want either way not some compromise inbetween. I had great expectations for this move but it turned out to be one of the worst adaptaions i´ve seen.


    June 22, 2012 at 1:46 am

    • Well let’s just agree that we disagree. It took me too a while to get into the story but once I was there I was all in. As of the language: I didn’t notice any modernisation at all. Admittedly I haven’t read the play, but it seamed like the “real thing”, but apparently shortened.

      Expectations are often a tricky thing to handle.


      June 22, 2012 at 6:37 am

  4. Great review, Jessica 🙂 I’ve been meaning to see this one for a while now. Hope I can do that soon.


    June 22, 2012 at 7:24 am

    • Thank you Fernando! Please do! It came out recently on DVD, hopefully it will be available where you live too.


      June 24, 2012 at 6:01 pm

  5. Glad your hours this though Jessica. I really liked it. The only thing that jarred with me was all the talk of “the gods”. It didn’t quite fit the modern setting but other than that it was great. Vanessa Redgrave in particular, showed her class and understanding of Shakespeare’s language.

    Mark Walker

    June 22, 2012 at 9:06 am

    • That should have said “glad you liked this”. I don’t know why it came out as “your hours”. I often have a problem with predictive text. ;-(

      Mark Walker

      June 22, 2012 at 9:11 am

      • Don’t tell me about it. I don’t want to think of how many text messages and tweets that have come out strangely when I use my cellphone. Constantly switching between Swedish and English certainly doesn’t help.


        June 24, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    • Well I think I got into it after a while. People believe in so many things… destiny, fate, cosmic powers, whatever. It’s just the naming that was a bit different.


      June 24, 2012 at 5:59 pm

  6. I can’t wait to see this, being Ralph Fiennes’ biggest fan and all. I must admit that Shakespeare isn’t my most favourite thing (the performance I did of Othello was soooooooo haaaaaaaaard!), but I do like to see a new spin on it every now and again.


    June 22, 2012 at 9:10 am

    • You might find this a LITTLE bit hard to digest iniatially, but believe me, you get into it and towards the end at least I was very touched and deeply into the story.


      June 24, 2012 at 6:01 pm

  7. I had the great pleasure of actually watching a production of Coriolanus in The Globe Theatre a few years ago, having not encountered it at all before. Like you it did take me a while to get into the tale, but once I did I was entranced. That said, I do think it is one of Shakespeare’s less-known plays for a reason, in that it just doesn’t seem to have quite the touch of (for example) King Lear.

    I haven’t seen the film, but it sounds to me almost as if it was inspired by Ian McKellan’s Richard III, which kept the original language but set it against a 1930s/40s background – if you haven’t seen it I strongly recommend it.

    Well done, I think taking Shakespeare out of the original setting can be very successful – like in the Richard III above. However, I do not like it particularly when they try to modernise the language. If one wishes to do that I would rather they craft a tale clearly inspired by Shakespeare (ie, something like how “10 Things I hate about you” is based off “The Taming of the Shrew”) rather than call it the original title.


    June 22, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    • I think the modernisation here is done with great finesse. Good on you watching it at The Globe! Must have been wonderful. I’ve been to it, but sadly enough not had the opportunity to watch a play live. One day…


      June 24, 2012 at 6:03 pm

      • Oh, if you are in London when there is something on you really should try and see if you can fit a play into your schedule. It is just marvellous. I would recommend getting a standing ticket for “The Pit” – which apart from being the cheapest puts one really close to the stage – indeed in two of the performaces my elbows were resting on the stage.


        June 24, 2012 at 6:11 pm

        • That sounds fantastic. Just seeing the theatre empty really got my imagination started. I would so want to see it in real life.


          June 24, 2012 at 6:53 pm

  8. You had me at “since I fell in love with him in The English Patient” (I LOVE that movie so much so any random mention of it makes me pleased).

    Fiennes did a fine job of this in his directorial debut and he’s quite good as the protagonist. On occasion the film does seem to become a bit antiseptic, but ultimately I think it does work well and builds to something quite good in the second and third acts.

    And Vanessa is luminous.


    June 23, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    • I always thought I was almost the only one to like it. I rarely see it mentioned at all, and even more rarely in appreciating terms. I really would like to revisit it.

      I agree that the film improves a lot over time. It took me a while to get into it.


      June 24, 2012 at 6:54 pm

  9. […] Jessica tyckte annorlunda och filmen kan man se här om man vill bilda sig en egen uppfattning. […]

  10. […] jag varit sugen på mer av Sir Ian. Alla texter om Shakespeareadaptionen Coriolanus (Movies-Noir, The Velvet Café och Filmitch), gav mig den spark i baken jag behövde för att återbesöka mästerskurken […]

  11. […] Coriolanus Ralph Fiennes breathes new life into a less popular Shakespeare play. The original lines and the modern setting mix unexpectedly well. […]

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