In Search of Shakespeare

In celebration of the Bard’s forthcoming 450th birthday, here is the BBC’s four part series on the lives and times of Will Shakespeare. It’s hosted by Michael Wood.

1. A Time of Revolution

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Ralph Fiennes on Coriolanus

I watched Ralph Fiennes’s superb directorial debut Coriolanus last night. It is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and Fiennes does it justice with a gritty adaptation, using a documentary camera technique. Like Orson Welles’s Julius Caesar, the play is transposed to modern times while retaining the Shakespearean language. The questions of power, representation, umbilical bonds, and the conflict between liberty and security are given a contemporary relevance. The adaptation is artistically bolder than Julie Taymor’s excellent Titus, even if Taymor’s adaptation was more creative and seamless in incorporating modern motifs into an ancient, rather more fantastic story. The performances, particularly Fiennes’s and Vanessa Redgrave’s, are outstanding. The only quibble I have is Coriolanus’s strutting. Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is confident of his own physical and moral superiority, he has nothing to prove. Whereas Fiennes’s Coriolanus is often stiff and affected, as if he feels the need to keep reminding others of his strength. The tattoo on the neck was just out of place. Gerard Butler is far more relaxed in his role, even if his performance is somewhat lacking in conviction. Lubna Azabal, last seen in the Canadian film Incendies, is convincing as the intense and rebellious Tamora.

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