Caius Martius 'Coriolanus' (Ralph Fiennes), a revered and feared Roman General is at odds with the city of Rome and his fellow citizens. Pushed by his controlling and ambitious mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) to seek the exalted and powerful position of Consul, he is loath to ingratiate himself with the masses whose votes he needs in order to secure the office. When the public refuse to support him, Coriolanus's anger prompts a riot which culminates in his expulsion from Rome. The banished hero then allies himself with his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) to take his revenge on the city.

Shakespeare adaptation successfully modernises the play.

The modern day setting that actor Ralph Fiennes has instigated for his directorial debut, an adaptation of the William Shakespeare tragedy Coriolanus, is no artistic conceit or minor distraction. Shooting in and around the still battered Serbian capital of Belgrade and using news footage of recent Balkans strife, Fiennes and screenwriter John Logan place an unsettled, vicious Rome under a contemporary gaze and find that nothing has changed: people protest in the streets, politicians strive for power, and one soldier despises himself for serving the very people he hates.

Emerging from a granary as a mob protest food shortages, the Roman general Caius Martius strides towards the simmering crowd: head shaved, jaw set, scars bearing testament to his past successes, he belongs to the Patricians (here a political party) and he has no time for the commoners. 'Who deserves greatness deserves your hate," he declares, and Fiennes puts the vigour and emotional clarity that have become his mid-career trademarks into every line. The British actor, who has considerable experience of Shakespeare on the stage, gives a masterfully raw performance. Later in the film soldiers under Martius’ command start to shave their heads, replicating his look, and you can understand the primal act of fealty.

Behind this great man stands a military stage mother. To the worry of Martius’ wife, Virgilia (Jessica Chastain), his battlefield exploits are encouraged by his matriarch, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), who takes pride in the 25 wounds already suffered by her only son. She’s exultant when he leads a campaign against the neighbouring Volscians, while Martius looks to test himself against their commander, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), who he admires. Working with Barry Ackroyd, the British cinematographer who shot The Hurt Locker, Fiennes stages urban combat as a bloody clash that ultimately bring the two warriors into inconclusive close quarters combat.

Victory brings Martius back to Rome, where he is suddenly popular and thus more dangerous to himself. With Coriolanus added to his name to mark a city he conquered, the general is ushered into politics by his mother and the Patrician leader Menenius (Brian Cox). Television pundits declare him a certainty for the consulship, but his inability to display an affinity with the general public dooms him. Rivals stir up dissent – they quote his old speeches back to him as accusations, with Coriolanus and his lack of a common touch suggesting the current American presidential candidate Mitt Romney. 'Rabble" he calls them, 'traitor" they reply, and he is banished, walking away from Rome and towards a vengeful alliance with Aufidius.

As good a Fiennes is, he takes care with the supporting cast. Redgrave has a powerful monologue late in the picture, while Butler – using the native Scottish accent that was last heard in the animated hit How to Train Your Dragon – acquits himself well, even if a confrontation with Martius conducted at a whisper shows how comparatively compelling Fiennes is even in the most intimate of settings. As a filmmaker Fiennes has a feel for the physicality of soldiering, and he renders Martius through language and action a man destined to stand outside any age. 'He was a kind of nothing," a one-time Roman subordinate fearfully reports to the Senate, having seen Martius lead the Volscians, and the film knows that there’s only one way out for someone who’s destroyed themselves in a bid to destroy his enemies.

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2 hours 2 min
In Cinemas 08 March 2012,