Coriolanus film review: The real tragedy of this Shakespeare update is that we just don"t care that it was made

The real tragedy of this Shakespeare update is that we just don't care that it was made

Coriolanus (15)

Verdict: Well done, but was it worth doing

Ralph Fiennes’s update of one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays is in many ways a triumph.

It’s dynamically acted by Fiennes as the title character, Vanessa Redgrave (as his formidable mum), Brian Cox (as his political mentor) and even — improbably — Gerard Butler as his nemesis.

Fiennes has learned a lot from being directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker). The Serbian locations provide an effective backdrop for a story of civil war.

A fascistic anti-hero: Ralph Fiennes as Caius Martius Coriolanus

A fascistic anti-hero: Ralph Fiennes as Caius Martius Coriolanus

He carries off his attempt to tell his tale in a faux-documentary style with panache, and even persuades newscaster Jon Snow to deliver bulletins in Shakespearean verse as if he means them.

But there’s no escaping the fact that the Roman general who disliked his own people so much he went to war against them is an arrogant, vicious, fascistic brute.

Shakespeare’s attempts to turn him into a tragic hero undone by pride don’t work because it’s so difficult to empathise with him.

That’s the reason this play is so rarely performed. Other tragic heroes may become monsters, but we remain involved in their struggle. Coriolanus is such a proud, cold-hearted swine that spending more than two hours with him is a long, hard slog.