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All’s Well That Ends Well
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Coriolanus
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Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
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Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Winter’s Tale
Shakespeareana

Available versions

1984: Elijah Moshinsky

2012: Ralph Fiennes


Coriolanus
2012: Ralph Fiennes

I confess that the contemporary trend of rendering Shakespeare “grittier” or “more realistic” by clothing the soldiers in fatigues, arming them with automatic weapons, and setting the scene in grubby, graffiti-splattered slums, is not to my way of thinking especially illuminating in respect to either Shakespeare or contemporary political reality. What Shakespeare had to say that can be applied to our modern condition may be useful, but he was saying it in somewhat more abstract terms than this kind of rendition would really suggest. The political reality of Coriolanus was more remote from Shakespeare than Shakespeare is from us, by a factor of about 4:1. Showing his forces as police in riot gear is (one supposes) trying to say something about modern police techniques more than it’s really addressing either Shakespeare’s text or the history of Coriolanus.

Of course the play rightly is a study of the nature of political power, and the place of severity and leniency, economic extravagance and hardship. Those questions are indeed with us today. I wonder whether they are best examined, however, by bringing them into the context of contemporary material and social culture, or by expanding our imaginations to encompass them in the more remote contexts. Part of the value, I would argue, of engaging with Shakespeare’s plays in the variety and multiplicity of their settings. My sense is that Fiennes and his production team don’t trust our imaginations to be able to connect the matter to our own reality. Only by gross surgery can the play be made palatable and politically instructive.

In the process, the play is brutally cut, squandering our opportunity of hearing more of Shakespeare’s text within its two-hour compass in order to show us more military and social violence. There are also a number of instances in which speeches are taken from one person and given to another (not unheard-of, but problematic, to my mind), and bits are changed here and there. In I.iii, Valeria says: “your lord and Titus Lartius are set down before their city Corioli.” This is given to Menenius, and revised as “your lord and Titus Lartius are set down before the Volscian city of Corilius”. Not only is “Coriolus” never mentioned as a singular noun once in the whole play, but its vowels are never permuted into this order. Whether that was the script as revised or Brian Cox’s mismanagement of the word is unclear. In II.i, though, Coriolanus has the line “Such eyes the widows in Corioli wear”, and there the name of the town comes out as “Corioles”. Significant speeches are jettisoned, such as the famous speech of Menenius in the first scene about the rebellion of the body against the belly. What’s left is still interesting, but the whole is thrown out of balance thereby.

The acting is on the whole very impressive. There’s a wide range of ethnic voices represented, with African and East European accents folded into the mixture: I certainly don’t have a problem with that, but I can’t help thinking that it’s supposed to be telling us something that is nevertheless not particularly clear. The lead parts are all taken by noted actors: Ralph Fiennes is in good form, as is Gerard Butler; Vanessa Redgrave is, as always, imposing, and she delivers her final speech, where she sues her son to return to Rome, with fervor and passion.

All in all, this is a curiously watchable film, but it feels as if it was being presented more for the sake of making some obscure political point than for telling its own story. As Shakespeare it’s very sketchy, and should be taken with a large grain of salt, as (at best) an adaptation, rather than a version, of the play. To its credit, the closing credits claim that it was “based on” Coriolanus. That’s about right.


1st Senator: Dan Tana

1st Soldier: Radovan Vujovic

1st Volsce Soldier: Radomir Nikolic

2nd Senator: Miodrag Milovanov

2nd Soldier: Jovan Belobrkovic

2nd Volsce Soldier: Zoran Pajic

3rd Senator: Andreja Maricic

4th Senator: Svetislav Goncic

Caius Martius Coriolanus: Ralph Fiennes

Camp Barber: Mirko Pantelic

Citizen: Danijela Vranjes

Citizen: Lawrence Stevenson

Citizen: Marija Mogbolu

Citizen: Marko Stojanovic

Citizen: Milan Perovic

Citizen: Milos Dabic

Citizen: Nenad Ristic

Citizen: Nicolas Isia

Citizen: Olivera Viktorovic

Citizen: Tamara Krcunovic

Citizen: Zoran Cica

Citizen: Zoran Miljkovic

Cleaner in Corridor: Bora Nenic

First Citizen (Tamora): Lubna Azabal

General Cominius: John Kani

Jamaican Woman: Mona Hammond

Maid: Elizabeta Djorevska

Menenius: Brian Cox

Old Man in Corioles: Dusan Janicijevic

Second Citizen (Cassius): Ashraf Barhom

Shopkeeper: Dragoljub Vojnov

Titus Lartius: Dragan Micanovic

Tribune Brutus: Paul Jesson

Tribune Sicinius: James Nesbitt

Tullus Aufidius: Gerard Butler

TV Anchorman: Jon Snow

TV Pundit: David Yelland

TV Pundit: Nikki Amuka-Bird

TV War Correspondent: Kieron Jecchinis

Virgilia: Jessica Chastain

Volsce Lieutenant: Slavko Stimac

Volsce Politician: Radoslav Milenkovic

Volumnia: Vanessa Redgrave

War Vet: Slobodan Ninkovic

Young Man in Market: Slobodan Pavelkic

Young Martius: Harry Fenn

Young Roman Soldier: Ivan Djordjevic

Young Senator: Uros Zdjelar