Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Coriolanus

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Reviews - Coriolanus


Reviewed By John Stakes

The last film of the current season saw a number of “firsts” in this screening of Shakespeare’s final tragedy. Ralph Fiennes’ 2011 film of “Coriolanus” was the first ever film adaptation of the Bard’s play, the first time Fiennes has directed (it would be interesting to know exactly how actors direct themselves!), and the first time Serbia (Belgrade) has stood in for the Roman Empire (a place calling itself Rome).

The film’s title is an honorific one given to Caius Martius (Fiennes) following his valorous efforts in the only world in which he is at home and excels: the field of military conflict. After a startling opening of street conflict over grain shortages and street combat sparked by civil uprising (filmed by cinematographer Barry Ackroyd utilising all his skills from Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker”), matters settle down somewhat for a time whilst Coriolanus fights his demons in the world of politics in a modern UN looking senate forum and a TV studio.

The big problem for this military man is his arrogance and cold disdain for his fellow men and women. In the stage version his character will have undergone a far more broad and intensive analysis than as presented here so making it much more difficult for Coriolanus to be transformed (as Shakespeare no doubt intended) on film, from a pride driven brute to a tragic hero. And no matter how hard Fiennes strained to achieve credibility through his angst and blood soaked face he remained for this reviewer somewhat of a two dimensional character devoid of any empathy for others or our sympathy for him.

Coriolanus is heavily influenced throughout by his formidable mother Volumnia (Vanessa Regrave) to whom he turns naturally to bathe his wounds rather than his long suffering wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain). How Redgrave relishes these roles, but she over emphasises her unwavering resolve and pitilessness to such an extent that she comes across as an overly mannered caricature. Most of the rest of the cast, whilst competent and comfortable playing Shakespeare in modern dress, never came as close to character realisation as Brian Cox playing Menenius

Indeed there was a very two dimensional feel about all the characters caused as much no doubt by the decision to pare the play’s densely plotted political narrative down to accommodate the cinematic medium. Consequently the story’s exposition raised far more questions than it answered and some of the crowd scenes were unconvincing (even allowing for the fickle nature and manipulative vulnerability of the proletariat in classical theatre generally). In short the politically inept Coriolanus seemed to find himself ostracised in a trice.

Sworn enemies become temporary allies as Coriolanus wends his way to Antium and the Volscian army headed by Aufidius (Gerald Butler). Together they intend to march on Rome but first Coriolanus is sent back to attempt a peace pact having earlier rejected any compromise when Menenius is sent to negotiate. Coriolanus is persuaded by the joint entreaties of his mother, wife and son, to relent and sign a peace treaty, only to find on his return to Aufidius that his actions have been interpreted as treachery and Coriolanus is knifed to death. No doubt those better versed in the play will explain away this reviewer’s confusion over the bloody back road denouement.

Budgetary constraints probably accounted for the small scale feel to the unfolding events which were set on a much wider canvas. It never felt as if the nation’s future hung in the balance and it was hard to feel moved by the personal conflicts, which as between the two male leads, came across as little more than an overwrought muscle-bound grappling exercise. The scrub like Serbian terrain excellently conveyed the atmosphere of a country beset with civil strife, but post production scrutiny should have spotted and edited out the busy background motorway which served only to emphasise the theatricality of the production.

However the Keswick audience loved this highly accomplished and brave if flawed film and voted it amongst the most popular of a fascinating season. The committee is to be congratulated for its determination to continue to bring challenging, controversial, provocative and entertaining cinema to Keswick on Sundays. And thanks too to Tom Rennie for his imaginative development of the weekly programme for audiences by widening the choice of generally released film fare. Thankfully cinema is alive and kicking in Keswick!

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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