It’s got more battles than any other Shakespeare play and its Rambo – it mught be the bard, but you won’t be bored.
For his directorial debut, Ralph Fiennes charts the path of destruction of a brilliant, fearless general undone by pride and arrogance. Updated to a contemporary timeframe, Fiennes is filming in authentic war-tron terrain when Buzz meets him on Coriolanus’ Serbian set. The bombed-out Hotel Yugoslavia in Belgrade is today playing host to a silent stalk through dark, ghostly corridors as Coriolanus and his troops seek out their sworn enemies’ ruthless leader Aufidius (Gerard Butler).
Fiennes and Gladiator scribe John Logan spin the Romans as an imperial superpower and their enemies, the Volscians, as ragtag paramilitaries (with their look modelled on Chechen guerrillas). But despite this adaptation’s modern twists, Fiennes is determined to keep the verse intact. “Pretty much every word is Shakespeare’s”, he tells Buzz in his trailer, his shaved head coated in fake blood. “But I didn’t want it to be too poetic. The best Shakespeare I can hear is when I believe it’s being spoken by real people”.
On set, Fiennes appears methodical, efficient, quietly orchestrating the scene with DoP Barry Ackroyd (no surprise the film has a heavy Hurt Locker vibe) before stepping into frame for a mano-a-mani duel with Butler after Aufidius and his men have emerged like spectres from the mist.
Both look brilliant: menacing, moody, dangerous. For Fiennes, performing in front of a camera instead of an audience gives space for a more dynamic portrait of Shakespeare’s military monster. Call it the power of the close-up. “I was so excited about getting into Coriolanus’ face”, he enthuses. “To do it with intimacy is going to make a huge difference…
ETA|AUTUMN – Coriolanus opens later this year.