Coriolanus in Conversation

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Photo by Karen in Toronto

It was a full cinema. Any new Shakespeare film is bound to be an interesting cultural moment. And this one stars Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave (in her first Shakespearian film role).

Last evening The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, in partnership with The Stratford Picture House, shared a premiere showing of Coriolanus on the eve of its national release. Below is a five-minute soundpost version of the discussion I co-led with Dr Paul Prescott of the University of Warwick.

The film is compelling, not least because of the handling of Shakespeare’s language – never easy on film. It is the speaking of Shakespeare’s lines that Ralph Fiennes’s performance really shines. He manages to be bold enough to let the sounds of the words make their musical impact, giving them just the right amount of heightened reality that Shakespeare’s language needs. As the film unfolded, I felt I’d been starved of a Shakespearian experience of such high quality for too long. There is much to admire visually, too. The hand-held camera angles give the film a rough and politically urgent edge. And there is a clever use of the genre of television news which makes the story-telling crystal clear.

I would have liked more emphasis on Coriolanus’s development from a non-relating killing machine into a human being. Shakespeare gives ample opportunity for the actor to show this (and therefore to win our sympathy for the protagonist) after Coriolanus’s mother, wife, son, and family friend have been to plead with him not to invade his home city of Rome. Here the film seemed foreshortened.

But surely Ralph Fiennes’s film and the performances he has made available to the many thousands of people who will see it is a great and indeed defining moment for Shakespeare on film.

Coriolanus (mp3)

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson
  • Susan Ross

    Grow up it is a superb play

  • Edward Nilges

    I found the “modern warfare” nonsense and it detracted from a fine film in the same way the 1930s warfare detracted from Sir Ian McKellan’s otherwise first rate Richard III. 

    “Oh but Shakespeare is universal” [so we don’t have to learn the Renaissance context?]

    Real soldiers don’t talk in iambic pentameter and they do not suspend a military operation so the generals can fight, because industrial warfare has been since the Civil War in America, and the Crimean War, a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.

    Shakespeare’s language uses the rhythms of the technology and transport of the time. Poetry was used to teach swordplay (and Edmund de Rostand got it right when Cyrano fought while versifying).

    I found the use of Serbian military support disturbing given the dark record of that army.

  • Paul Edmondson

    Many thanks for this comment. The film had an admirable restraint to it, for all it was action-packed.

  • Humphrey

    Ooooo can’t wait

  • DF Acting

    Agree, and think that there was that foreshortening as mentioned, and that around that time there was also a little more pausey / laboured acting (Butler mostly) that did not fully work for me.
    That said, I found this a very watchable film. It did not go overboard in any of the many directions / genres you mention (to which I’d also add documentary) and it really impressed me by its successful marriage of Shakespeare’s language with modern warfare and its many aspects (personal, political, etc) depicted. (Essential elements to warfare through the ages, no doubt.)

    Also, of course, there were some very strong performances to be admired, especially from Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Cox, and – for the most part – Gerard Butler: best performance I’ve seen from the latter, in fact (though I admit to not having seen many). 

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