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Coriolanus - Film Review

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by David Francis (subscribe)
David Francis is a freelance writer based in Adelaide.
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If you walk into this movie without realising it is based on a play by William Shakespeare, and do not expect to hear the original play's wording throughout, it may be a bit of a shock.

You certainly do not need to be a fan of the Bard to appreciate this movie, however. Let the dialogue roll over you and the acting and action on screen will give you all you need to know about what is happening. It is the power of the performances that rivet the viewer to their seat.

This film will fall into the category of "love it or hate it" – there will be no middle ground with this. You either get past the mode of speech, appreciate the story for what it is, or you don't.

What you should be able to do is recognise modern equivalents in the plot – helped by the modern settings of course. Here is political machination and spin, power struggle, emotional blackmail, divided loyalty, idealism, and warfare fanned by personal agenda. Much of it is filmed documentary style, so the battle scenes are familiar to anyone who watches a modern day news service. The politicians are in suits, the military types in uniform, and some of the narrative is moved along by television broadcasts.

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Ralph Fiennes plays Caius Martius, a Roman general who has had great and bloody success on the battlefield. His mother Volumnia, played to perfection by Vanessa Redgrave, has a strong emotional hold on Martius – to a greater extent than his wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastains) and son (Harry Fenn) – which helps determine many of his actions.

Martius wins a decisive battle at Corioles against the rebellious Volscians, led by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), and his heroism earns him the name Coriolanus and the right to be chosen as consul upon his return to Rome. Volumnia and his old friend Senator Menenius (Brian Cox) persuade him to take this political career path.

The Senate vote him in as consul but the people's vote is also required. This is a problem for Martius, who has long been against any reduction in the power of the aristocracy and has spoken out harshly against commoners. Despite this, he speaks to the people and earns their vote to become consul.

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Two tribunes (Paul Jesson and James Nesbitt) plot against Coriolanus to sway the popular vote back against him, enraging the general and forcing a confrontation ending in his banishment from Rome. He seeks out his old enemy Aufidius and joins forces with him against Rome. Coriolanus becomes popular with the Volscian troops, as Aufidius watches on with his jealousy held in check by the desire to defeat Rome.

This is a magnificent film, with a gripping and gritty story, beautifully acted by a superb cast. As Fiennes' directorial début, it was a challenging piece to take on but he has delivered well. Get over Shakespeare's words and you'll love it – you may love it for that anyway – but if you get hung up on the dialogue and are not a fan, you'll probably hate it.

I give it four stars.

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Why? A magnificent film, with a gripping and gritty story, beautifully acted by a superb cast.
When: Now showing
Where: In cinemas
Cost: Check with local cinema
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