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Lately, we have had our attention brought to William Shakespeare’s love of contemporary tragedy that is set in Ancient Rome. As with most things dealing with our favorite topic, we have jumped headlong into discovering the passion with Anya Rose’s Animated ‘Julius Caesar’, Mark Antony’s Speech in “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare, and Julius Caesar (or How William Shakespeare Hit a Grand Slam).
Coriolanus is a 2011 British film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name, ultimately about the Roman-Volscian Wars, starring Ralph Fiennes in his directorial debut. Produced on a budget of US $7.7 million, the film was shot in Belgrade and other areas of Serbia using many locals as extras.
The film premiered on 14 February 2011 at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival and it opened the 2011 Belgrade International Film Festival. On 2 December of that year, it opened in New York City and Los Angeles.
As of February 2012, it has only been shown on a limited basis in other large US cities, such as Chicago. It received a full UK cinema release on 20 January 2012 after premiering at London’s Curzon Mayfair cinema on 5 January.
Considering a cast including Gerard Butler (Tullus Aufidius), Vanessa Redgrave (Volumnia), Brian Cox (Menenius), Jessica Chastain (Virgilia), along with Ralph Fiennes as Caius Martius Coriolanus, it is hard to see why there was such limited release. Maybe folks today just don’t appreciate Shakespeare like in years past?
Set in a contemporary day alternate version of Rome, riots are in progress after stores of grain are withheld from citizens and civil liberties are reduced due to a war between Rome and the neighboring Volsci.
The rioters are particularly angry at Caius Martius, a brilliant Roman General whom they blame for the city’s problems. During a march, the rioters encounter Martius, who is openly contemptuous and does not hide his low opinion of the regular citizens.
Tullus Aufidius, the commander of the Volscian army who has fought Martius on several occasions and considers him a mortal enemy, swears that the next time they meet in battle will be the last. Martius leads a raid against the Volscian city of Corioles and during the siege.
Much of Martius’s unit was killed, but the commanding General Martius gathers the necessary reinforcements for the Romans to take the city. After the battle, Martius and Aufidius meet in single combat, which results in both men being wounded but ends when Aufidius’ soldiers drag him away from the fight.
Martius returns to Rome victorious and in recognition of his great courage, General Cominius (John Kani) gives him the agnomen of “Coriolanus”. Coriolanus’s mother Volumnia encourages her son to run for Consul within the Roman Senate.
Coriolanus is reluctant, but eventually agrees to his mother’s wishes and easily wins the Roman Senate. Initially it seems Coriolanus has also won over the Plebis (Common Citizens) as well due to his military victories.
A pair of scheming Tribūnī (Tribunes), Brutus (Paul Jesson) and Sicinius (James Nesbitt), are critical of Coriolanus and his entrance into politics. Fearing that his popularity would lead to Coriolanus taking power away from the Senate for himself, the Tribunes plot to undo Coriolanus and so stir up another riot in opposition to him becoming Consul.
When they call Coriolanus a traitor, Coriolanus bursts into rage and openly attacks the concept of popular rule as well as the Citizens of Rome, demonstrating that he still holds the Plebeians in contempt. Coriolanus compares allowing Citizens to have power over the Senators as to allowing “crows to peck the eagles”.
The Tribūnī term Coriolanus a traitor for his words and order him banished. Coriolanus retorts that it is he who will banish Rome from his presence.
After being exiled from Rome, Coriolanus seeks out Aufidius in the Volscian capital of Antium and offers to let Aufidius kill him, to spite the country that banished him. Moved by his plight and honored to fight alongside the great General, Aufidius and his superiors embrace Coriolanus.
The Volsci then encourage Coriolanus to lead a new assault on Rome, so that he can claim vengeance on the city which he feels betrayed him. Coriolanus and Aufidius coordinate a plan and lead a Voscilian attack on Rome.
Panicked, Rome sends General Titus to persuade Coriolanus to halt his crusade for vengeance. When Titus reports his failure, Senator Menenius attempts to dissuade the former Roman hero but is also shunned.
In response, Menenius, who has seemingly lost all hope in Coriolanus and Rome, commits suicide by a river bank. Finally, Volumnia is sent to meet with her son, along with Coriolanus’ wife Virgilia and his son.
Volumnia succeeds in dissuading her son from destroying Rome, and Coriolanus makes peace between the Volscians and the Romans alongside General Cominius. When Coriolanus returns to the Volscian border, he is confronted by Aufidius and his men.
They now also brand Coriolanus as a traitor. The Volscians call him Martius and refuse to call him by his stolen name of Coriolanus.
Aufidius explains to Coriolanus how he put aside his hatred so that they could conquer Rome but now that Coriolanus has prevented this, he has betrayed the promise between them. For this betrayal, Aufidius and his men attack and kill Coriolanus.
Coriolanus received positive reviews and currently holds an aggregate of 93% at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 134 reviews. The consensus states:
Visceral and visually striking, Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus proves Shakespeare can still be both electrifying and relevant in a modern context.
The film was nominated for Golden Berlin Bear award at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival. Ralph Fiennes was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer at the 65th British Academy Film Awards.
Coriolanus was released by Anchor Bay Home Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray in the United States on 29 May 2012. Both home media formats of the film contain director commentary with Ralph Fiennes and a behind-the-scenes featurette entitled The Making of Coriolanus.
The film was later released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United Kingdom by Lionsgate Films on 4 June 2012. This release contained the same director commentary audio track but replacing the Making of… featurette with Behind The Scenes of Coriolanus with Will Young.
If you have yet to see, or even read, Coriolanus then we highly suggest you get moving. Set in a modern era with contemporary stars, there is no better way to see Shakespeare if you aren’t already a fan.
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Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Katz, Josh. “Coriolanus Blu-ray”. Blu-ray.com, 15 March 2012.
Maher, Kevin. “Ralph Fiennes peers outside the hurt locker for Coriolanus”. The Australian, 4 February 2012.
Monk, Katherine. “Film review: Fiennes finds heart of Bard’s Coriolanus”. The Vancouver Sun, 19 January 2012.
Wiseman, Andreas. “Why Coriolanus Matters”. Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus Blog, 31 March 2010.
“Belgrade film festival closes, Ralph Fiennes’ movie opens 2011 FEST”. Earth Times, 28 February 2010.
Coriolanus at Rotten Tomatoes
“Coriolanus – Blu-ray and DVD details”. Chris and Phil Present, 3 May 2012.