What do Shakespeare and Chechnya have in common? Not a lot until Ralph Fiennes decided to take the Shakespearean play Coriolanus and interpret it through the modern eyes of urban warfare. Although written around 1605 the storyline takes us into the days of Rome as the people are revolting for lack of food and the powers of the day have enforced a military regime.
As well as directing Fiennes sits well in the leading role as Caius Martius the saviour of the people. He has returned a champion of the day in the quarters of the battle. Now as the victor he is transported into the lofty seats of power in part because of the pushing of his ambitious mother Volumnia played by an intense Vanessa Redgrave.
Through the process of politics, an undermined Caius is driven out of town by the spin doctors. Here he does the unthinkable and engages with the enemy to war against Rome. His skills of war are well received in the rebellion and Rome begins to panic at the potential onslaught of their favourite son.
Leading the Volscian army is the commander Tullus Aufidius played by Gerard Butler. As sworn enemies who had often met many times on the field of war Tullus and Caius are happy to spill blood for their cause. So when Caius comes into the enemy camp with a cap in hand to fight with the Volscians the scene is set for betrayal and survival.
This directorial debut is a winning effort from the English actor and gives us the exciting potential for the future. The script is Shakespearean but the deliveries are timed to perfection to give a beautifully paced drama. The backdrop is modern European civil war and the warriors arm up as urban soldiers weaponised with modern guns and grenades. The rebels give a sense of being the people’s defenders sourced from a skinhead convention but equally are to the task of tactical man-to-man combat in settings that would make a battle-worn Kosovo look chic. The concept of Shakespeare’s sonnets meeting Call of Duty can be a bump in the road to your thinking but it’s a great clash.
While this may be a triumph for Ralph Fiennes as a Director it shouldn’t be overlooked that he owns the screen in this movie. If you thought classical theatre was boring, wait until you sense the passion and righteous anger in the face of Fiennes. This won’t be the last we see of Fiennes behind the camera. He already has an intriguing title in the works with the scheduled 2013 release of The Invisible Woman, a tale of Charles Dickens.
As you consider whether to see this modern Shakespearean plot, take a risk, love the drama and be amazed that a story can live at any time and any place.