Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut with this challenging film, an adaptation of one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays (certainly lesser-known to those of us who only know the Bard's greatest hits, anyway). The fact that he has made such a fantastic end product just shows that he really needs to kick himself up the backside and get some more directorial credits under his belt.
Fiennes also takes on the central role of Caius Martius Coriolanus, a great soldier who doesn't care for the love or respect of the common people. He's a proud man, an honest man and someone not interested in the political game. This all becomes a bit of a problem when others try to get him to run for consul. Mainly to please his mother (Vanessa Redgrave), Caius tries to do his best, but when his disdain for the role becomes abundantly clear he becomes a hated figure, so hated, in fact, that he is banished from Rome. As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend and so Caius ends up befriending Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), his old enemy, and joining with him to march upon Rome.
There is a lot more to the story than what I've briefly outlined. The central trio may be Caius, his mother and his enemy, but there's also some meddling from Menenius (Brian Cox), serious scheming from Tribune Brutus (Paul Jesson) and Tribune Sicinius (James Nesbitt), some loving concern from the wife of Caius (Virgilia, played by Jessica Chastain) and protests from common folk such as those played by Lubna Azabal and Ashraf Barhom. John Kani plays General Cominius, yet another character more swayed by the political machine and opinion of the people than any direct action, and Jon Snow (yes, THAT Jon Snow) pops up as a TV anchorman to discuss the situation with other commentators.
Taking Shakespearean source material and giving it a bit of a modern update is nothing new, of course, but Fiennes decides here to aim for a nice middle ground that suits the text. There are guns, cars, TVs and much more signifying that this is a tale set in the modern age, but that all falls by the wayside when the camera focuses on the characters and what they have to say.
The cast are all very good, and an interesting mix. It's unsurprising to see what gravitas is brought to the table by Fiennes, Butler, Redgrave and Cox, for example, but Chastain holds her own very well indeed and Jesson and Nesbitt have fun with their roles. The dialogue that you expect to hear, adapted into screenplay form by John Logan, is a treat for the ears and the whole presentation tries to keep things fresh and dynamic, an aim in which it largely succeeds.
Sadly, I am not familiar with the source material so cannot comment on how faithful it all is to the original text, but I do think that this is a very worthy drama to be enjoyed by fans of the Bard and fans of quality acting displays. Give it a try to see how you react to it.