(Published as 'Fiennes Channels Welles' in The Sunday Guardian, dated 22 January, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/fiennes-channels-welles)
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, Jon Snow
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Rating: 4.5 stars
Thanks to the very popular Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is best known by the last four letters of its title. Ralph Fiennes’ modern day screen adaptation is best known for shocking Indian film aficionados by landing up here. And so, I was the only one in the hall, and had to persuade the manager to screen the film.
In a testimony to the timelessness of Shakespeare’s lines, Coriolanus reimagines the story in a contemporary setting.
A tattooed, sinewy arm polishes a knife, as the trusty face of Jon Snow appears on the ironically-named Fidelis TV to tell us of the hunger crisis in ‘A Place Calling Itself Rome’. The ticker flashes ‘Thousands wait for food’, ‘Senate declares state of emergency’. The man with the sinewy arm, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) frowns as it reads ‘General Martius suspends civil liberties’, and that’s our first sight of the man who will become Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes).
Severe, gritty and tonsured, Caius Martius is the toast of Rome, and the dread of the Volscian land, whose army is headed by the equally brave, far more approachable Aufidius. The countries are caught in a “flaring border dispute”. But Martius must first deal with angry plebeians who want food. He stomps to the Central Grain Depot, and does with his domineering stance what Senator Menenius (Brian Cox) couldn’t do with diplomatic speech. He disperses the crowd, and then heads to the Volscian city of Corioles, the capture of which will earn him his honorific.
The film plays out as an allegory on uprisings across the world today. As a dedicated news channel beams images and screams headlines, millions take on the harried establishment. Seasoned campaigners coach a man who calls voters “flatterers” in political posturing, while opportunists want him hanged for treason.
Caught between his mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), mentor Menenius, wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain), noble enemy Aufidius, and the people, Coriolanus must weigh honour against policy. With imaginative storytelling and stellar performances, the film underscores Fiennes’ mastery of acting and direction.
Verdict: If you’re the kind who frequents Mandi House, and doesn’t mistake Murakami for a kind of noodle, rush to the cinema. A film this good can’t run long.