59 of 63 people found the following review helpful
A Convert to Coriolanus,
This review is from: Coriolanus [DVD] (DVD)Although based on a dark, grim and bloodthirsty Shakespearean tragedy, I was very impressed by this film which I went to see with some trepidation.
Well-paced and not excessively violent (compared to what it could have been) the acting is excellent, the words spoken with such expression and clarity that the sense comes through very strongly, even to someone like me unfamiliar with the text. It does not bother me that some passages and plot details may have been omitted in the interests of making the plot easier to digest. Likewise, a dialogue which sounds at time surprisingly modern compensates for the lack of any memorable "To be or not to be"-style soliloquies which may not come across well in a film.
The modern setting is not irritating and gratuitous as is too often the case, but also enabled me to see the film's relevance to our divided and violent world. Rome is represented as a typical concrete western city, ruled by the cynical "haves" ("patricians") while the mass of "have-nots" are beginning to riot over lack of bread, although they are easily swayed by cunning politicians.
Rome is under threat from a Balkan-type community called the Volscians, against whom the professional soldier Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) gains a celebrated victory over the city of Corioles, thus being rewarded with the surname "Coriolanus". This leads naturally to his appointment as a consul, but "honest to a fault", he refuses to conceal his contempt for the people. His political enemies play on this to get him banished, which of course turns him from a loyal supporter of Rome to a man bent on revenge.
On a personal level, this is an interesting psychological study of pride, fanaticism and jealousy. The complex relationship between Coriolanus and his mother Volumnia, played brilliantly by Vanessa Redgrave, shows how a strong man may be controlled as a tool of his physically weaker but mentally stronger mother's ambition.
If I had studied this play at school, I think I might have hated it - although a good teacher enabled me to appreciate the drama of Julius Caesar. Hopefully, this intelligent modern rendition may enable many students - and general viewers as well - to understand and value this very interesting play.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Jun 2012 13:41:39 BDT
I did study this at school and it was probably my least favourite Shakespeare play. Quite enjoyed this version of it though!
Posted on 1 Jun 2012 14:23:52 BDT
Last edited by the author on 1 Jun 2012 14:24:19 BDT
Hello, Antenna and Cartimand. I confess that 'Coriolanus' is my absolute favourite amongst Shakespeare's tragedies, so I'm looking forward to this film. Not having seen it at the pictures, I've pre-ordered my copy together with the screenplay. I was disappointed to see the script in the latter heavily cut. One regrettable excision is Menenius' 'belly' tale, which is hilarious in context (the citizens' interruptions and all). And when a line like 'He [Martius] did it [service for his country] to please his mother' is given to the non-Shakespearean character Tamora (here, a TV correspondent), then there's our loss, since originally it's spoken by one of the all-male citizens: coming from the mouth of a woman, the remark made of Volumnia and her son isn't insulting enough. The cuts in some of the blank-verse lines to accommodate the play's new setting and characters are another drawback. Nevertheless, I await the film's release on DVD with impatience, my judgement so far being based on the screenplay.
In reply to an earlier post on 1 Jun 2012 18:18:42 BDT
Thanks for your comment. I'm beginning to see the benefits of not being an expert on Coriolanus. Perhaps the key is to accept that the film version will be different. I tend to find that versions like this one which set out to "suit the medium" work better than, say, filming of a live stage version.
In reply to an earlier post on 1 Jun 2012 20:40:29 BDT
That's a good point, Filippo. Whilst I did enjoy this version, I too thought the hilarious 'belly' (and big toe of course!) scene should have been included, to give us at least one laugh amongst the gore and tragedy. Coriolanus is still powerful stuff, but not one of the Bard's best IMHO.
Posted on 2 Jun 2012 07:12:06 BDT
Last edited by the author on 26 Aug 2012 14:05:39 BDT
Thank you, Antenna and Cartimand, for your thoughtful replies. You must be wondering why I'm so passionate about 'Coriolanus'. Here's an extract from one of my reviews on the play:
'Coriolanus' is the maturest, most innovative, and most modern of Shakespeare's tragedies. For a start, nothing (even for the Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences) is worse and more pathetic than an overlong protagonist's death speech, a theatrical convention mocked in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' ('Pyramus and Thisbe'). The only tragic hero who dies onstage without a speech is Coriolanus (mercifully, embarrassing interjections like 'Ah' and 'O' are dispensed with altogether): his silent death is far more noble, realistic and uplifting than that of Hamlet, Othello and Lear. Macbeth (like Timon) has no death speech, simply because he (again, like Timon) dies offstage: his last lines - 'Lay on Macduff; / And damned be him that first cries "Hold, enough"!' - verge on the comic (the omission of the 1847 onstage death soliloquy from the 1865 revised version of Verdi's 'Macbeth' is a huge improvement). In 'Coriolanus', Shakespeare rids the drama of the conventional stage business that litters the 'four great tragedies' ('Hamlet', 'King Lear', 'Macbeth' and 'Othello'): no self-dramatization at the moment of death, no self-recognition (so much for hamartia, hubris, anagnorisis), no supernatural events and props (ghosts, witches, magically-woven handkerchiefs, over-the-top thunderstorms, lightning and rain), no old-fashioned clowns and fools, no songs (rhymed verse is less than 1%), no lengthy self-reflective soliloquies (just a handful), virtually no asides, not even a metrically complete line to conclude the play (the last line is an iamb - 'Assist' - the only instance in all Shakespeare; the unconventional ending of 'Hamlet' - 'Go, bid the soldiers shoot' (six syllables) - surpasses that of the other three great tragedies, which (like the bad quarto of 'Hamlet') conclude with couplets; 'Timon' ends with four heavily-stressed syllables: 'Let our drums strike'). The title role is the only one in Shakespeare that owns a section of an Elizabethan/Jacobean public theatre: a pratictioner at Shakespeare's New Globe had once told me that the pillars supporting the roof are antithetical in gender and emotion, one of them representing Mars and the other Venus - 'Martius' is derived from the name of the Roman god of war (the 'son of Mars'). I side with Eliot (though I personally exclude 'Antony and Cleopatra'): 'Coriolanus' is 'Shakespeare's most assured success'.
Posted on 25 Jul 2012 20:33:17 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 Aug 2012 14:23:06 BDT
Finally got the time to watch the film. I must say I'm a bit disappointed, for a number of reasons that primarily involve the text being used. I've already mentioned the opening scene with the citiziens. Then, the role of messengers (named or anonymous, played by major or minor characters) is superfluous: it doesn't make sense for a character to bring news which can be seen and heard on satellite and cable channels by almost everyone. The only scene featuring female characters - the 'sewing scene' - is weakened by having the lines of Valeria (a role of a hilariously nosey woman omitted altogether here) spoken by Menenius. One of the best Shakespearean speeches - Cominius' 'I shall lack voice' - is also weakened, most of the lines being heard outside the hall where the scene takes place. And where's the 'gown of humility'? Coriolanus is smartly dressed in the voting scene. Another thing is the reversal of the hand gesture 'Holds her by the hand, silent': in the original text, the gesture precedes, not follows, 'O mother, mother, what have you done?', a moment which is more moving than in the film. In the screenplay, we're told that Shakespeare's original is kept (despite the modern setting), but (I recall only these two examples) 'Let us revenge this with our pikes' is spoken as 'Let us revenge this with our sticks'; and Sicinius' 'Are you mankind?' is replaced with 'Are you mad?': Volumnia's 'Ay, fool; is that a shame?' is pointless, since she's responding to the word 'mankind' (which means 'mad' in context) to mean 'human' (at least, 'mad' should have been spoken as 'human'). Overall, much of the work looks like a documentary than a film (too many headlines and news bulletins). Pity no satisfactory version exists on DVD: the Moshinsky production (BBC) is heavily cut, and the Steven Berkoff film (Tokyo Globe Theatre) suffers from middle-of-the-road line delivery and staging. Despite my reservations, I'm glad that Fiennes chose this play, rather than a well-known work (no more 'Hamlet' and 'Othello' films, please!). Its realism is timeless.
In reply to an earlier post on 16 Aug 2012 21:14:16 BDT
Last edited by the author on 16 Aug 2012 21:18:47 BDT
A. Redha says:
Excellent points, Filippo, on the play's novelties, not to mention your argument of the Globe's Mars pillar being associated with (you say owned by!) Martius.
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