Was it accidental, or did Ralph Fiennes anticipate the cries of the rabble? At the beginning of Coriolanus, Fiennes’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s parabolic tale of a war hero who, prodded by minions and his politic/duty-bound matriarch (Vanessa Redgrave, better than ever, if that’s possible) loses the courage of his convictions and pays for it, the dialogue is spoken with such heavy accents that initially the viewer has to intuit what’s actually going on. Maybe Fiennes is meeting the audience’s fear of the Bard head-on (“yes, I know, Shakespeare can sound so foreign, so…Sanskrit, but bear with me, this’ll be over soon.”). What follows is a timely tale told in a cinematic language full of brutal poetry (set in Rome, the film was shot in Eastern Europe) that’s all the scarier considering its source was written in 1608. In another year Fiennes’ portrayal would be the one to beat for all those end-of-the-year kudos; his is a complicated portrait of a man caught between his pride and the whims of those who have no care for honor, or the nation’s well being.
It’s hard not to cringe as Coriolanus harangues the fickle crowd with, “What would you have, you curs, that like not peace nor war?” As battles rage and people protest, one’s thoughts drift to those images of Occupy Wall Street and the teeming European throngs familiar from the evening news. But the film reminds us that it’s too easy to blame the politicians for the world’s woes; in a democratic society, the populace is also complicit. Coriolanus shows that flip-flopping is nothing new; neither are backroom machinations, or the ease with which voter’s emotions are exploited. World politics is an ongoing tragedy: we never learn, the film admonishes, which makes watching it a bitter, thoughtful pill to swallow as the next Presidential election looms.