Debating Ralph Fiennes’s Coriolanus

Col_posterOver at Ibishblog, Hussein Ibish and Artistic Director of The York Shakespeare Company Seth Duerr offer differing reads of Ralph Fiennes's adaptation of Coriolanus. First, Ibish:

Fiennes' meta-multimedia production captures this inability of Coriolanus to function effectively in the staged world of political theater and practiced artifice. The trial scene in which his banishment is confirmed rather than repealed is staged on a TV debate set, and as he leans forward to begin his opening speech urging reconciliation and his own forgiveness, “The honour'd gods Keep Rome in safety…,” Fiennes' Coriolanus is unable to control the feedback from his microphone, eliciting derisive laughter from the hostile audience. Time and again the media representations of his political and even military activities, and the mass media environment and technology with which he is so uncomfortable, mainly serve to undermine his ambitions and cast him in the worst possible light. They are in this adaptation aptly depicted as best suited to the demagogic manipulations of the tribunes, although the crafty old politician Menenius also seems appropriately adept at deploying them.

What is far less effective is the way in which so much of Coriolanus is lost in this adaptation.


Your initial statement that the film “has much to offer, especially if it can succeed in re-connecting parts of the public with an undeservedly neglected masterwork” is the main reason that the film is valuable. Despite my intense dislike of the script-cutting and the consequent one-dimensionality of the central performance, the very idea that we’re having a discourse about this play is spectacular. Only a small percentage of the global population is familiar with the play, and most people dismiss it as problematic.

It is the “problem plays” of Shakespeare that usually interest me the most. I do not choose to work on a play if I think it is a problem, as it is not my duty to “fix” them, merely to share great stories with an audience. As warning for the future, if you ever notice in the publicity/director notes for a production a description of the play as a “problem”, then save your time and money and don’t go. Otherwise, you will be in for an evening of the director’s condescension to the audience and devaluation of the playwright.