Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn


Sunday the 18th, we went to the Oriental Theater to see the new film "Coriolanus," adapted from William Shakespeare's tragedy of the same name. Directed by Ralph Fiennes, the screenplay by John Logan updates the plot into a powerful story of pride, envy, ingratitude, and betrayal. The modern-era setting (shot in Serbia and Montenegro) makes the scenes of combat harsh, brutal, realistic, and compelling. Excellent story telling, and really marvelous acting by Fiennes in the title role, the suitably regal Vanessa Redgrave as his mother*, Brian Cox as his friend Menenius, and Gerard Butler as his long-time foe, Aufidius. (*Possibly one of Shakespeare's greatest blunders was retaining her name as "Volumnia" from historical sources. Can anyone not see or hear this name and not think that she must be hugely fat? The movie script deals with this by referring to her as "mother," "my mother," "his mother," et cetera, which helps a lot.)

Parts of the movie are fleshed out with news footage of real-life battles and riots. Lubna Azabal as the fierce Tamora and Ashraf Barhom as Cassius are the faces of the mob, hungry, dissatisfied, and angry.

Very spoileriffic blow-by-blow behind the cut:

Caius Martius (Fiennes) is a hard-bitten, fire-eating professional soldier who has a long and honorable record fighting in Rome's wars. The story opens in early days of the Roman Republic. Rome is suffering one of its periodic famines, and Caius Martius is tasked to keep order. This is a job which accomplishes with his customary ruthless efficiency. He is actually rather restrained, but he earns the emnity of the Roman mob not only for the violence he does employ, but also for his bluntly expressed contempt for the common herd.

When fresh hostilities break out between Rome and the neighboring Volsicans under the leadership of Tullus Aufidius, Caius Martius is eager to cross swords with him again. In the fighting, Caius Martius again distinguishes himself in battle, leading from the front. He meets his hated foe, Alfius, in single combat (a very well portrayed knife-fight) but the two are separated when the area they are in comes under shellfire.

Back in Rome, Caius Martius is granted the title "Coriolanus" by the Senate in recognition of his capturing of the enemy city of Corioles. The Senate elects him Consul (the Roman Republic's highest office), although he does not much want the job. Both his pride and his modesty militate against begging for votes, and against showing off his scars, a traditional way of demonstrating your service to the City.

However, the Plebians must ratify the election of a Consul, and Caius Martius manages to gain an initial affirmation by appealing to those in the crowd that share his values; a veteran soldier, and a Roman matron. The jealous Tribunes (supposedly the people's representatives)played by Paul Jesson as Brutus and James Nesbitt as Scicinus, stir up the people's resentment against Caius Martius, which results in the mob revoking his election and instead ordering him banished from Rome after his outburst of temper against them causes him to be branded a traitor.

Seething at this betrayal, Caius Martius gets to the Volscian capital, and makes common cause against Rome with his old enemy, Alfius. Together, they raise a new army and smash their way to the gates of Rome. All is not rosy in the camp, however, as Alfius notes that Martius' popularity seems to exceed his own, and he is taking a secondary role.

Caius Martius' old friend Menenius comes to parley with him and try to get him to give up his revenge, but is turned away. Menenius commits suicide out of sorrow and despair. At last, Martius' mother, wife, and child come out to confront him. His mother calls on him to recall his loyalty, not to the people of Rome, but to the City itself, and urges that he can have his revenge and the Volsicans their victory by negotiating stern peace terms instead of putting Rome to the sack. Even Martius' young son declares he will fight Martius if he enters the City. When Martius looks to Alfius, Alfius admits that even he is moved by the plea, and gives leave for Martius to negotiate peace.

While Caius Martius is in Rome signing the treaty, Alfius' resentment and old hatred boil up. When Martius returns, the treaty concluded, and his usefulness to Alfius having ended, the Volsican orders his men to set upon Martius and kill him. The movie ends with "Corilanus'" lifeless body being dumped into the back of a truck, to be taken who knows where.

We were very glad to have had the opportunity to see this rarely-presented play. Loud and bloody as it frequently is, it also seems honest, with the grotesqueries of say, the 1999 Julie Taymor "Titus". The paring down of the text preserves the arc and the sense, with little being lost. Highly recommended for the Shakespeare completists out there. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
Tags: movies, shakepeare
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