4/10/12: Coriolanus


“I will fight against my cankered country with the spleen of all the under fiends. But if thou dares not this, then I present my throat to thee & to thy ancient malice”

William Shakespeare penned 11 tragedies. Coriolanus was his penultimate & is widely regarded as his final great one. The only tragedy that followed it is Timon of Athens, a minor work, and 5 more plays, one per year from 1608-1612: Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and Henry VIII; the first two & last are histories, and the other two comedies. The recent film version of Coriolanus, screenplay by John Logan based very much on The Bard’s original script, is a great adaptation of the piece. It stars Ralph Fiennes as Caius Martius Coriolanus in his directorial debut.

The movie was passed over by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for all Oscar nominations last year. I thought this was because it was either not submitted for consideration or was being held for potential nomination for the 85th Academy Awards whose presentation ceremony will be on 2/24/13. This is not the case. Logan’s screenplay was submitted for consideration (see http://www.twcguilds.com/assets/screenplay/coriolanus.pdf). I loved this film. That it got not a single nomination was a snub.

As aforementioned, the screenplay is quite similar to Shakespeare’s script. Interestingly, however, the setting is current day, in a political city-state of Rome. This may be the reason for the snub: We have all the military & communications technologies of today; but the language is that of Renaissance London; and the political climate that of ancient Rome. I found this at first only a minor nuisance, and only because of my personal traditionalist neurosis. The casual film-goer may at first have difficulty acclimating to the linguistics, but after a few moments relaxing the mind, it’s as natural a transition as having your first beer in the late morning on the heels of multiple cups of coffee.

Fiennes, who was nominated for Best and Supporting Actor Oscars in The English Patient and Schindler’s List respectively is, as usual, brilliant. As director, he gets the most of his cast of seasoned journey-persons and exceptional relative newcomers: Gerard Butler (300, The Phantom of the Opera) plays the antagonist, Tullus Aufidius; Brian Cox (Stryker in X2) is Menenius; Jessica Chastain (Take Shelter, Tree of Life, and Best Supporting Actress Oscar Nominee for The Help) is brilliant as Coriolanus’ wife Virgilia; and Vanessa Redgrave (6 Oscar nominations, and the Best Actress winner for Julia) as Volumnia, Coriolanus’ mother. Logan, who penned the play Red about the abstract artist Mark Rothko which is currently in production at TheaterWorks Hartford, has 3 Oscar nominations – Original Screenplay for Gladiator shared with David Franzoni & William Nicholson; Original Screenplay for The Aviator; and this year’s Adapted Screenplay for Hugo. This fantastic film with its fantastic cast & crew, as of yesterday 4/16/12, grossed $668,116. Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds came out over a month later & has grossed $34,803,241. Nice to see our taxpayer dollars working hard to educate our youth, isn’t it?

The major themes of this film are, as with all tragedies, the main character’s hubris – he refuses to apologize for insulting the citizenry of Rome; his egomania – he calls them curs & considers them subhuman by comparison to him; war & patriotism; banishment & revenge; his lack of emotional temperance; maternal & spousal love; and his rise to & fall from power. Coriolanus is a complex character whose major flaw is that he feels he is above all and this causes his doom. Though not as well known as many of Shakespeare’s other great tragedies – Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, Othello, and Hamlet are all more widely read & regarded – it is in the same class.

The plot follows the life of warrior Caius Martius as he defends Rome from the invading warrior Tullus Aufidius & his army. After driving them back in a vicious battle in Act I, Caius refuses to display his wounds to the citizens: He feels they are neither worthy nor that his injuries are entertainment for the plebeians. He is elevated to the rank of Coriolanus, but must be approved by the citizens. Instead, they banish him for his insolence & pride. Coriolanus, in turn, vows revenge on Rome’s leaders & citizens. Coriolanus is a fine reworking of Shakespeare’s play, brought forward in time, presumably to make it more palatable to younger audiences. So much for that idea! But go see it – or rather rent it since it’s already gone from Connecticut theaters. Or don’t! You plebeian curs are unworthy of Ralph Fiennes fine performance & first directorial venture anyway!

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