Perhaps to make amends for the world premiere of Anonymous, the Toronto International Film Festival is also bringing us the outside-of-central-Europe premiere of Ralph Fiennes’s adaptation of Coriolanus. (Fun fact: Vanessa Redgrave is in both films.) Judging from this UK trailer, the least disconcerting thing about the film will be getting used to Lord Voldemort with his nose back:
Will this adaptation be as brilliant as Julie Taymor’s Titus? As abominable as Kenneth Branagh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost? As provocative as Richard Loncraine’s Richard III (the one with Ian McKellen as a proto-Nazi Richard) or, dare I say it, Romeo + Juliet? All you can tell from the trailer is that it’s as radically updated as these.
Which isn’t necessarily bad by any means. Coriolanus is one play of Shakespeare’s that could benefit from some jazzing up. It is far, far and away Shakespeare’s hardest play to like, and the intriguing thing is that that is fully intentional. I regard Coriolanus as a radical experiment by Shakespeare, comparable to Timon of Athens, which he may have (co)written at about the same time, stretching the limits of Renaissance theater to an extent hard to appreciate even now.
This is anything but entry-level Shakespeare; I had thought about reading it now, after Julius Caesar, which would have permitted some interesting comparisons, but I wasn’t sure we would be ready for it. (Also, I’ve had a hard week and wanted something less off-putting; hence, Titus Andronicus.) it’ll come very close to the end of our traversal. The language of Coriolanus is convoluted and none of its characters are likable enough for us to latch on to them—least of all Coriolanus, the most alienating Shakespearean protagonist. No wonder Bertolt Brecht found Coriolanus to provide the perfect preexisting example of his Alienation Effect. In fact, the only successful way I can imagine to play Coriolanus straight is Brechtian. Otherwise, I think you’d have to take its experimentalism seriously. That could include an update to a contemporary war-torn world not unlike the former Yugoslavia, which is the approach Fiennes seems to have taken. And in 2011, let’s be serious, there’s no other way at all that an adaptation of any Shakespeare play other than the Big Four and Romeo and Juliet is going to get made without some such move.
The screenwriter, John Logan, probably best known for Gladiator, doesn’t inspire great confidence—not exactly Tom Stoppard here—but we’ll see. Indeed, I will see this movie though, for reasons I explained earlier, not at TIFF. I’ll let you know what I think.