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Shakespeareana

Available versions

1984: Elijah Moshinsky

2012: Ralph Fiennes


Coriolanus
1984: Elijah Moshinsky

This is the BBC Shakespeare Plays version of the play. As such, it has fairly modest production values, targeted at the capabilities of broadcast television in about 1980. The images are not high-resolution, and the costumes and sets are modest (though they vary in art direction quite a bit from one to another). Over the years, moreover, some of the color has washed out of the images. But inasmuch as the goal of the process was to provide a complete set of performances of all the plays in the corpus, the project was a success: these plays capture some significant performances, using more or less uncut scripts, and unfettered by any “high-concept” distractions.

Alan Howard’s representation of Coriolanus is hard-edged and unappealing, but that’s probably part of the basic problem confronting the actor with the role: he’s not a very likable character. Howard embodies a conception of Roman severity as filtered through Renaissance English categories of thought. His contempt for the common Roman is palpable. Nevertheless, despite his pride and self-absorption, he is capable of intriguing introspection, which is, I think, part of what makes the play work.

Particularly memorable are Mike Gwilym’s Aufidius, Irene Worth’s Volumnia, Heather Canning’s Valeria, Patrick Godfrey’s Cominius, and Joss Ackland’s Menenius. The latter was at the peak of his powers, and his dark tones, coupled with his nuanced and measured delivery of his speeches, create an acoustic marvel.

If there’s something to complain about here, it’s that the whole is somewhat monochromatic, both in terms of dramatic tonality and presentation. Some of that is a function of the script, but it can be either accentuated or attenuated in the performance. The art direction for this particular production is (to my taste) overly severe, rendering almost everything in very dark hues with the occasional splash of blood and fire. Without some contrast, the palate wearies. Similarly the musical score (produced by Stephen Oliver) seems to me a bit pompous and tiresome. It is nevertheless a solid and watchable performance of a difficult play.


Adrian: Valentine Dyall

Aedile: Nicolas Amer

Aufidius: Mike Gwilym

Caius Marcius (Coriolanus): Alan Howard

Citizen of Antium: Stephen Finlay

Cominius: Patrick Godfrey

Fifth Citizen: Russell Kilmister

First Citizen: Paul Jesson

First Roman Senator: John Rowe

First Volscian Senator: Brian Poyser

Fourth Citizen: Jon Rumney

Gentlewoman: Patsy Smart

Junius Brutus: Anthony Pedley

Menenius: Joss Ackland

Nicanor: Teddy Kempner

Roman Soldier: Jay Ruparelia

Second Citizen: Ray Roberts

Second Volscian Senator: Reginald Jessup

Sicinius: John Burgess

Third Citizen: Leon Lissek

Titus Lartius: Peter Sands

Valeria: Heather Canning

Virgilia: Joanna McCallum

Volumnia: Irene Worth

Young Marcius: Damien Franklin