While Shakespeare lovers are usually spoilt for choice when it comes to film productions of Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and many others of the most popular of the Bard’s plays, this is not the case for Coriolanus.
It’s easy to see why. It’s a purely political play, in the same vein as Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, and therefore may not appeal to a wide audience who prefer the psychological approach of character-driven plays. This is a shame, really, as a good production has much to offer the viewer, i.e. an example of the nature vs nurture debate, the origins of the Roman Republic and the difficulties and opportunities power can bring.
If you’re interested in seeing the play, here are the 3 films available to buy:
BBC – Coriolanus
The oldest version available of the play and it shows, unfortunately. Much of the period drama at this time was simply a transfer of a stage style to the television format, and so can appear wooden and clunky. I am a big fan of costume drama from the 1970s-early 1980s period – the stagey nature appeals to me – but even I haven’t been able to watch all of this production. It is, in my opinion, rather dull. Coriolanus is played by Alan Howard and he plays it well, but it gets boring. Not a production to introduce you to the play.
Coriolanus, directed by Ralph Fiennes
This one is far better, although I think it suffers from the update to modern dress; the viewer gets distracted by the guns and tanks and soldiers’ uniforms. Ralph Fiennes is very aloof and intense as Coriolanus, and makes his fall from hero to enemy very believable. Gerard Butler doesn’t fare as well as Aufidius, in my opinion, but he doesn’t do a bad job. Vanessa Redgrave is extremely good as Volumnia, though. She is what you imagine a hard-hearted woman who wishes she had been born a man to be like.
Buy it at Amazon
RSC – Coriolanus
Unfortunately, I can’t comment on this film as I haven’t seen it. I used to buy all the RSC productions, but over the last decade, I’ve been regularly disappointed in them (I much prefer Globe productions) and haven’t bothered. Coriolanus is played by Sope Dirisu and the play has once again been moved to modern times. I note that Hadyn Gwynne plays Volumnia – I can imagine her being very good at this part.