Theatre and opera directors have been staging modern-dress productions of the classics for decades. Filmmakers were slow to follow, probably due to the naturalistic tendency so often assumed to be inherent to the medium. But since Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Julietand Richard Loncraine’s Richard III(set in the Fascist 1930s) perhaps that’s started to change.
For his directorial film debut Ralph Fiennes has transposed the least often performed Shakespearean tragedy from Roman times to present-day Europe, a decision that mostly makes perfect sense. This is, after all, a story of a leader whose overweening pride alienates him from the people he is meant to serve – and there’s no shortage of current candidates for that description.
Indeed modern resonances crop up everywhere you look, from the Iraq war (the scenes of ferocious urban combat) and the 1990s Balkan wars (helped by the film’s being shot in and around Belgrade) to the post-GFC civil disobedience seen recently in Greece and Spain.
Fiennes, who previously played the title role in a celebrated London theatre, makes a suitably haughty and intense Coriolanus, while Vanessa Redgrave is in terrific form as the general’s influential mother.