Shakespeare's play is not one of his most popular or best loved, but it is coldly compelling - just like its lead character. The role of Caius Martius Coriolanus requires an actor who can be naturally sophisticated and ably project patronising assurance and simmering scorn with ease. Richard Burton, Ian McKellen and Kenneth Branagh have all essayed the part in the past and Fiennes, having performed it on stage over 10 years ago, now brings his take on it to the screen. Top marks to him.
He gives an excellent performance as the proud Roman General, the conquering warlord who has defeated the Volscis and now seeks to be Consul. But his coldhearted manner does not endear him to the people, and when he seeks their vote, it is with the utmost contempt that he must try to hide when attempting to be persuasive. The "most sweet voices" speech is a gift for an actor and Fiennes gives a memorable interpretation of it, outside the parliament building as the crowd start to bay for blood. He's a brutal thug at heart with no idea how to communicate to the underlings, and the torture he goes through in soliciting their support is superbly realised.
After being banished from Rome he makes his way to the opposing side and joins forces with arch nemesis Tulius Aufidius (Butler, less effective with the Shakespearian cadences) as he plots his revenge on all those that betrayed him. Upon his return, his mother (Redgrave) and wife (Chastain) try to reason with him but to little avail. Fiennes is fiercely commanding and Redgrave is more than a match for him as Volumnia, the determined matriarch. She is by turns scheming, vulnerable, wily and indomitable and plays it all to the hilt. It's been a long time since one has seen her in such a meaty role and she rises to the challenge magnificently. It's a great performance.
It takes a fair while to get going and there are slow spots to be sure, but after a while one finds oneself completely engrossed in the proceedings. The modern day setting in war torn Serbia gives the narrative an immediacy that the play obviously lacks. Gunfire erupts violently as bodies fall, the rolling news coverage on the TV screens, personified by Jon Snow, lets us see exactly how near the enemy army is to encroaching upon the capital.It's a tough, vigorous movie, not easy to embrace, and therefore a fitting rendition of the play. Fiennes' directorial debut is a most impressive stab at the bard that pays off handsomely. Kudos to him and all involved. Well worth watching.
EXTRAS ★★★ An audio commentary with Fiennes; Behind the Scenes of Coriolanus with Will Young (25:30); 10 Cast and Crew Interviews.