Last evening The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, in partnership with The Stratford Picture House, shared a premiere showing of Coriolanus on the eve of its national release. Below is a five-minute soundpost version of the discussion I co-led with Dr Paul Prescott of the University of Warwick.
The film is compelling, not least because of the handling of Shakespeare’s language – never easy on film. It is the speaking of Shakespeare’s lines that Ralph Fiennes’s performance really shines. He manages to be bold enough to let the sounds of the words make their musical impact, giving them just the right amount of heightened reality that Shakespeare’s language needs. As the film unfolded, I felt I’d been starved of a Shakespearian experience of such high quality for too long. There is much to admire visually, too. The hand-held camera angles give the film a rough and politically urgent edge. And there is a clever use of the genre of television news which makes the story-telling crystal clear.
I would have liked more emphasis on Coriolanus’s development from a non-relating killing machine into a human being. Shakespeare gives ample opportunity for the actor to show this (and therefore to win our sympathy for the protagonist) after Coriolanus’s mother, wife, son, and family friend have been to plead with him not to invade his home city of Rome. Here the film seemed foreshortened.
But surely Ralph Fiennes’s film and the performances he has made available to the many thousands of people who will see it is a great and indeed defining moment for Shakespeare on film.