This modern Shakespeare business has never sat comfortably with me. Up-to-date takes on these classics are inevitably usually comical affairs and more often than not, deeply inaccessible for an audience that really doesn't want to think too hard or appear too stupid to understand what the bloody hell is going on.
And what a tragedy for Ralph Fiennes to choose to recreate. Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's most complicated and socio-political affairs. There are murky doings aplenty, rioting, war, vengeance, subterfuge and machinations of political spin that you could easily find taking place today. But is today the right place for this? Fiennes clearly believed that it was, choosing a modern Rome for Martius to commit to martial law when the city runs out of food.
From a national hero to zero in the space of few misjudged movements, this highlights the nature of the many. The zeitgeist of a time, as now, when the foibles of the masses dictate to their rulers. This is a salutary lesson where the puppets play with the toymakers strings.
The script is Shakespeare, though edited for the big screen, so a copy of York's Notes may come in handy. The speeches are authentic tongue with sophisticated cinematography and a modern setting make this experience initially unsettling and slightly disconcerting. Once you get past this opening bout of uncomfortable squirming, however, you can settle down and marvel at the words and their delivery.
The acting from the two leads is brilliant, of this there is no doubt, with Fiennes especially convincing as Martius. Gerard Butler's Aufidius is angry, seething and exhibits a barely concealed loathing practically all of the time.
Supported by Jessica Chastain (Virgilia), Vanessa Redgrave (Volumnia), Brian Cox (Menenius) and James Nesbitt (Sicinius) this is a treat for those that like a bit of actual acting talent.
In all, a very credible stab at Shakespeare's Coriolanus, to a backdrop of Modern Warfare. In all honesty, this is no more accessible to a mass audience than any other production of its kind, but Fiennes does make it compelling to watch, even without the subtitles for the hard of understanding. It will never garner a sizeable following simply because of this, but for those that will appreciate it, it is stirring stuff.