Coriolanus review

The directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes certainly boasts the acting prowess required by this violent Shakespearean tragedy, but a lack of visual flair and some awkward updating to modern times makes this an uneven and often frustrating experience.

The hype…
It's always exciting when an acclaimed actor moves behind the camera, and where better for the celebrated thesp to cut his directorial teeth than on an adaptation of the works of the Bard? With a cast including Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain, Gerard Butler and more besides, this has every chance of hitting the dramatic heights.

The story…
The story of ancient Rome in turmoil has been transported to modern times, where rioters are rising against their callous rulers. Great military leader Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes), now dubbed Coriolanus for his battlefield successes, is tasked with quelling the disorder.

Soon he is convinced by his mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) and the patrician Menenius (Brian Cox) to run for consul. Reluctant to convert his hero status into political capital, Coriolanus initially refuses, but is soon cajoled into office and, as he predicted, his initial success is short-lived.

Schemers Brutus (Paul Jesson) and Sicinius (James Nesbitt) soon turn the commoners against him, and some hasty words belying his arrogance and disdain for the masses see Coriolanus exiled for good.

From the wilderness, Coriolanus seeks out old foe Aufidius (Gerard Butler), and forms an unholy alliance to wreak his vengeance on Rome.

The breakdown…

As you'd expect from the directorial debut of an actor like Ralph Fiennes, and source material from Shakespeare, this is a fantastic showcase of acting talent. Fiennes pours himself into the role of Coriolanus, displaying an energy and vigour that captures all of the power and rage pent up within the born warrior. In the more vitriolic of scenes, you'll swear you can even feel the great man's spit on your face.

Surprisingly, Gerard Butler isn't far behind him. Aufidius might not have the raw power and drive of his rival and reluctant ally, but he is a force to be reckoned with - and Butler conveys that with ease.

Naturally, Vanessa Redgrave and Jessica Chastain supply the delicate charms and quiet intelligence required as the wise and noble mother and wife of Coriolanus.

Unfortunately, all of their efforts are somewhat scuppered by a fudged attempt to bring the tale into the modern day.

Retaining the political setting and period language of his Shakespearean source material, Fiennes nonetheless drags the story into a contemporary setting. The change largely consists of mediocre costumes, the addition of tanks and the awkward insertion of news bulletins - delivered with unintentional hilarity by none other than Jon Snow.

But while these moments merely grate, some don't work at all. Coriolanus' election as consul is a laughable affair, and the way in which sneaky rivals Brutus and Sicinius turn the populous against him is ridiculously simple and far too convenient.

The verdict…
If you want to see top notch actors reaching their heady highs in the midst of glorious Shakespearean dialogue, this won't disappoint. But those of you expecting an inventive adaptation, or signs of visual promise from Fiennes the director, will be bitterly disappointed.

Rating: 2.5/5

'Coriolanus'  is due to be released in the UK on 20 January 2012. Certificate: 15.