Review: Coriolanus

Coriolanus starring Ralph Fiennes

Coriolanus, directed by and starring the nasally ominous Ralph Fiennes [raif-ines], is a Shakespearean tragedy that focuses on a man who makes war with foreign countries, his own country and more or less anyone within a five metre radius.

But is it any cop?

Ralph clearly wants his audiences and critics to marvel at both his ferocious characterisation
of Coriolanus and appreciate how clever he is for transplanting the action from ancient Rome to a faux-Balkan warzone, so he reminds us how ‘relevant’ it all is by relentlessly shaking the camera about, pushing it into the actors faces and allowing the image to frequently go out of focus, like it’s some student-filmed documentary.

Unfortunately, because this is Shakespeare, the actors are all so giddy with the opportunity to use their proper actor-voices that they were forced to learn when they were all at RADA that the atmosphere of contemporary reality is lost the instant that somebody opens their mouth and it’s never recovered.

Raffles as Coriolanus is out-and-out the worst offender, offering us a characterisation of the central protagonist that belly-flops between upper-class nostrillic monotony and quite possibly the best impression of Leonard Rossiter I’ve ever seen.

Oddly, there are tangents to his portrayal that can be paralleled with his performance in Red Dragon. But unlike Riff-Raff’s ‘Tooth Fairy’, his Coriolanus never feels especially dangerous, unless you have a fear of middle-aged paunches on skinny men.

Of the other actors roped into this, I don’t quite know what it was that was playing Corio’s wife. I think it may have been a breadknife with some marmalade on it.

Brian Cox is honest-to-god his own biggest fan that you can almost feel how disappointed he is that he’s not sat in the audience with you, watching you enjoy how good he is. Plus, can anyone tell me when he stopped listening to the wardrobe department and just started showing up in the same clothes to every film?

Gerard Butler looks consistently uneasy and a bit lost, but then every film he’s made since his breakout role in 300 has been a load of crap, so we can’t blame him for feeling scared.

But it would be unfair and untrue to say it was all bad.

Vanessa Redgrave, James Nesbitt and, scarily, Jon Snow are all genuinely fantastic in this.  They breathe Shakespeare’s lines as though they’re using everyday language and achieve the level of verisimilitude that Raffles was clearly aiming for when he decided to set the whole thing in Modern Warfare 2.

Now, I like  a bit of Shakespeare, so don’t mistake me for some attention-depleted war film addict who feels cheated because of ‘all the talking’.

Likewise, I’m not a portfolio-thumping purist of Elizabethan drama. I very much enjoyed the BBC’s Shakespeare Retold a few years back and Ian McKellan’s Richard III remains a happy movie memory (I’ve not watched it since it was released, so it might be crap and I reserve the right to revise this point should I watch it again anytime soon).

But  Coriolanus is, despite the fawning of the press, yet another object lesson in what happens when you let an actor run off with the cameras: an indulgent, lumbering misfire that confuses tone with style and fails to establish either.

Despite a hefty amount of showboating (spitting) from the lead, it  brings absolutely nothing new to the canon of Shakespeare on film and, at best, it has a bright future in the classrooms of uninspired teachers to torture their GCSE and A-Level students with.

Coriolanus is out in cinemas right now.

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