Ralph Fiennes has directed for the screen Shakespeare’s Coriolanus (2012).  Placed by Fiennes in a modern setting, it tells of Caius Martius, a Roman general given the title-surname of  “Coriolanus,” who has valiantly defeated the current enemies of Rome.  Extolled for this, the general is meant to receive the political position of consul, but there are tribunes who bitterly oppose him for his pride and his lack of love for the common people.  The dirt-poor mob that begins to support him is prodded by the tribunes into rejecting him, and at last it is decided that Coriolanus will be banished from Rome.  The general then seeks to betray the ungrateful country by joining the very enemies he bested:  the Volscians.

As James Bowman has asserted, the film is about honor and loyalty, but it also contains a sea of implications that makes it wonderfully relevant to our times. For one thing, it shows us that the electronic media does not, cannot, present honor (owing to its “radical leveling” of people–Bowman).    It is clear, nevertheless, during the first 40 minutes of the movie that the world needs honor, even if, unfortunately, the honor here emanates from a tragic hero.

Further, the scandalized tribunes remind us of men of the Left who deplore all things “conservative”:  They undervalue Coriolanus’s military prowess and, as I indicated, hate his non-love for the common people.  And they do not win our sympathy.  On the other hand, what is to be done for the Roman mob when it demands bread?  (More relevance to our times.)  It seems Rome is a place of neither scarcity nor economic strength.

Predictably, in its contemporary setting the film is not wholly convincing; not by a long shot.  But it mainly succeeds, and is lively and engagingly performed.  As both actor (he plays Coriolanus) and director Fiennes is effective.

William Shakespeare

Cover of William Shakespeare