The lonely dragon

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve had a love affair with Shakespeare. So when SIFF announced they were going to be holding Coriolanus over for another week, I had to go. Never mind that I’d been to the movies the last two weekends (to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, again, as well as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). I had to see it. HAD TO.

Coriolanus is not a tragedy I was familiar with. Shakespeare wrote a number of war plays, which I find less interesting than his other tragedies. Caius Martius is a prideful man, an egotistical one, a man who, despite having shed so much blood for his country, refuses to humble himself for the masses. He despises them. In short, Martius is a rather unsympathetic character. When he’s elevated to the position of consul, he is told he must ask the lower classes for their blessing, which he does. Two Tribunes, however, decide they want him out. His country banishes him, and he runs straight to the head of the opposition army and asks for his help in getting revenge.

As the BF pointed out, the film was very well done. It features an outstanding cast (Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler in his native Scottish accent!), and the camera work shoves the war down your throat. Battle sequences are shot with hand-held cameras, and by the end of the film, you’ll have memorized every line on Fiennes face.

Fiennes, in his directorial debut, does a fine job with his actors. Moving the setting from ancient Rome to present-day war-torn Middle East, the story itself seems fresh and plausible. Redgrave and Butler are tremendous, although Butler was a bit difficult to understand at times…that lovely accent of his got in the way.

As Martius, Fiennes proves once again why he’s a brilliant actor. He dominates the screen, even when he’s standing still. His outraged speech in front of the studio cameras, when he’s told he must ask the people’s forgiveness so he can keep his consul position, is so violent his face turns red and you can literally see him spitting the words out.

With Shakespeare’s work, most people rely on the actors to bring them the true meaning of the words. What confused the hell out of me was when Martius accepted the position of consul, his words indicated he would not lower himself to thank the general public and beg for their support, which would be fitting with his ego. But if you watch Fiennes run through these scenes, his posture, his expressions, his mannerisms, they all indicate a man reluctant to take on the role. Martius was anything but reluctant to be consul.

You get the sense that, given the chance, Martius is the man who would be king. This being Shakespeare, and a tragedy at that, you know it will not end well. But I sure enjoyed the ride while it lasted.

*image via BBC Films

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