Continuing my Shakespeare challenge this year, I’ve done all comedies so far and so decided to go for a tragedy. I’ve been intrigued by Coriolanus for years, but never actually explored it–so this seemed like the time!
I tried to read this, somehow never found the time, so I finally sent the paperback back to the library and got the DVD instead. The only version available, so the fact that it starred Gerard Butler was just a bonus! The story recounts the tragedy of Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes), a wildly successful Roman general who sees his fortunes take a desperate spin downwards when he tries to go into politics. Exiled from Rome, he seeks out his most hated enemy, Aufidius (Gerard Butler), and joins with his army to seek revenge.
I’d heard a little about this one, and what intrigued me was that idea of two enemies in war becoming allies, the idea that your adversary may actually be the one you’re most like. I still love that concept. I didn’t see it developed here quite as much as I would have liked–though I don’t know whether that was Shakespeare or just this version!
That element was in here, but there was also a whole lot of fighting or talking about fighting. The political element interested me more, especially because this was a modern-set version…and some parts were uncannily still appropriate. The fickleness of the crowd, the demands to play the political game–all still totally relevant. In a few places, there’s discussion on Coriolanus’ prospects for consul and what strategy he should pursue–the discussion was put into your typical, talking-heads news set, and it felt almost weirdly natural.
The character that intrigued me the most was Corolanus’ mother, Volumnia (Virginia Redgrave). That woman was a piece of work. She openly and proudly values her son’s glory in battle above his life, and is delighted when he comes home wounded (two more, that makes 27 wounds!) because it will look so good to the public. With her pushing him, it’s no wonder Coriolanus is a successful warrior, with a few issues about interpersonal relationships. Volumnia and Lady Macbeth together would have conquered the world.
And speaking of relationships and fierce alliances, I didn’t know quite what to make of Coriolanus and Aufidius’ relationship. The respect for a worthy adversary that I was intrigued by was there…but there well may have been some underlying homosexual relationship in here too. Aufidius is happier to see Coriolanus come to him for an alliance than he was on his wedding night–that’s a direct paraphrase. And while the movie never quite made it explicit, I feel like they didn’t shy away from having it as an implied idea. For two fierce warriors, they stood awfully close together a lot, and they’re physical fighting tended to be wrestling that strongly resembled embracing. So. Not totally sure what either the director or Mr. Shakespeare intended us to take from this!
I doubt this will ever be my favorite Shakespearean tragedy (that’s Hamlet, with Macbeth and Othello vying for second), but I’m glad to have finally seen a version. And it’s one more checked off my Tragedy list!
And keeping score for the Bardathon…
Comedic Shakespeare: 2/5
Tragic Shakespeare: 0/5
Cinematic Shakespeare: 4/5
Mix-and-Match (all-encompassing): 6/5