By Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
I went to see “Coriolanus” without knowing the story, never
having read what some deem one of Shakespeare’s minor tragedies. Historians agree, however, that Caius
Martius, with Coriolanus added later when he vanquished the Volscian city of
Corioli, did exist as a Roman aristocrat and soldier.
Give Mr. Shakespeare his due for writing such a relevant play from such
an obscure moment in ancient history.
This modern adaptation of the play is by John Logan who also wrote
screenplays for “Hugo” and “Aviator” and many others. Actor Ralph Fiennes, in his directorial
debut, also plays the proud Coriolanus just returned from victory. His mother
Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) urges him to stand for consul, but he is completely
out of touch with the commoners. The Senate and his advisers are with him then
against him. The crowds are encouraged to acclaim him but then two tribunes
scheme against him, and Coriolanus’ pride erupts in a diatribe against the
common people. He is denounced and sends himself into exile. He joins his
adversary (Gerald Butler) but when they return to take Rome, Coriolanus caves
to entireties of his mother and wife and refuses to attack. His betrayal, his
inability to decide, and the influence of his mother, make Coriolanus similar
in some ways to “Hamlet”.
This film, with some adjustments to speech, could be set it modern
times. The story is similar to the 2011
film the “Ides of March” where politics is the order of the day as well. In
both films the main character, a politician, has a tragic flaw that does him
in. For Coriolanus it is wealth, power and pride whereas in “Ides” it is pride,
sex, and power that trip up the presidential candidate.
For all its war and violence “Coriolanus” is a story driven by strong
women, especially Volumnia. Volumnia and
his wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain). The performances are powerful. Ralph
Fiennes’s rage against the plebeians, the little people, the populace consisting
of mostly commoners, is almost over-the-top; if his character hadn’t left town
they would have killed him.
In a presidential year, “Coriolanus” is worth watching. Pride, even if it be a man’s natural
personality, is a deadly sin. It is a lesson Coriolanus never learned and it
cost him his life.
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