I discovered Shakespeare’s Coriolanus when I was looking through Ralph Fiennes’s imdb profile looking for something new to watch. I was delighted to discover that he had started directing movies, too – actor directors are my favorite directors, hands down.
Coriolanus was his directorial debut (2011), with Lonely Dragon production company (named for a line in the same play). Since the same Lonely Dragon produced his sister Martha Fiennes’s Onegin (in which Ralph stars in the title role) around 20 years ago, one can imagine this one had been on the director’s radar for a while.
With an all-star cast in the lead roles and some phenomenal crowd scenes with a rich cast of very talented Serbian supporting actors, this movie immediately became one of my favorites. Vanessa Redgrave gives the finest performance I’ve ever seen from an actress in a Shakespeare production. Her vigor and intensity in this demanding role makes the movie unforgettable.
Ralph Fiennes faces off with Gerard Butler in this action-packed interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s last works. This fan poem, based on the 27th psalm, is about their confrontation, after Coriolanus has been exiled, and has come to his mortal enemy Aufidius’s camp to offer his services, in hopes of avenging himself on the Romans who banished him.
This last redoubt is my light and my rescue.
Who among you Volscians am I to fear?
The hate I have borne you is my life’s stronghold.
Of what ancient malice should I be afraid?
When your sentries draw near me with their swords bared –
eager to disembowel their sworn enemy –
they trip and they fall, are easily disarmed.
Though all of your camp is marshaled against me,
you can see that my heart is not moved by fear.
Though pitched battle is roused against me, alone,
in my hatred I trust, my strength is enough.
Only one thing do I ask of your chieftain,
it is all that I seek, and I bare my throat –
may I dwell in the house of my soul’s first hate
all the days of my exile, and join your war,
to behold the ruin of Rome, whose Senate
condemned me at the height of my proud career.
For this hatred hides me well in its shelter
on the day of evil. I am among wolves,
whose ceaseless hunger withholds me from the crows.
On a rock of impunity, here I rise.
And now in nakedness my shaven head lifts
over these raucous enemies around me:
let me officiate in your chieftain’s tent
bloody-minded sacrifices with fell shouts.
Let my very silence hymn Aufidius.
Hear, O bitterest rival, my battle call,
and grant me this one boon – to lead your army.
Of you, the wrath that consumed my heart long said,
“Seek only my face.” I have sought no other.
Your face, livid with a self-same hate, I seek.
Do not hide your blade from me – witness my throat,
bared to your advances. Turn me not away.
You are the wreckers of dreams whose help I want.
Abandon me not to the feckless mob’s vice,
O soldier of my own spirit. Let me fight!
Though my mother, my wife, my child would spurn me,
the caste of warriors of which you are bred knows.
Teach me, brutal Aufidius, in your ways,
and lead me on a straight path back to Rome’s heart
to avenge my honor against the Senate.
Do not pass me empty-handed back to them.
For rabble-rousers incited against me,
an outrageous mob deposed me as Consul.
If I but trust to see your hatred’s fullness,
summoning hell to the land of the living –
cry hunger! cry vengeance! cry murder in Rome!
May my lonely dragon’s heart be firm and cold,
and strike at my enemies with Volsce arms.