About The Production
Ralph Fiennes' ambition to make a film of William Shakespeare's "Coriolanus
took root when the actor played the role in an acclaimed production directed by
Jonathan Kent for the Almeida Theatre in 2000. Fiennes lived with the play and
the role for a substantial length of time: the production originated at the
Gainsborough Studios in London and subsequently traveled to the New York's
Brooklyn Academy of Art (BAM) and Tokyo's Akasaka ACT Theater, wrapping up its
run at the end of October 2000. With its charismatic, flawed military hero;
ferocious battle sequences; coolly trenchant observation of political and social
dysfunction; and intimate family portrait, "Coriolanus " had plenty of excitement
and intrigue to fill the big screen. "I became obsessed with the play and the
role and felt it could be very cinematic, " Fiennes explains. "I thought
that its narrative drive would lend itself to film. The thought stayed, and
developed, in my mind. "
Fiennes felt the story would easily work in a contemporary setting -- war,
political maneuvering, civil unrest and personal struggle being as endemic to
the 21st Century as they were to Shakespeare's Renaissance and Coriolanus' Roman
Republic. The Russia/Chechnya conflict and the recent political tensions in
Colombia were useful references as he fleshed out his concept. He envisioned
Rome as a quintessential global capital, with a diverse population and pervasive
economic and social inequality; the Volsces became a kind of separatist
insurgency, a scrappy guerrilla movement in opposition to Rome's organized
military. The deeper he got into the material, the more certain he became that
he not only wanted to portray the title character, he wanted to direct, as well.
By the mid-2000s, Fiennes was ready to take the step of turning his ideas into a
screenplay. He found an ideal collaborator in writer John Logan, the Tony
Award-winning playwright of "Red " and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter of
GLADIATOR and THE AVIATOR. Logan, himself a lover of Shakespeare, responded
immediately and enthusiastically
to Fiennes' ideas and signed on to write the screen adaptation. "Ralph and I saw
the play in exactly the same way - raw and contemporary, " Logan affirms.
"Neither of us was interested in doing a polite museum-piece. "
Fiennes had already homed in on ways to streamline the text for a modern
adaptation, and Logan reacquainted himself with the play and did the same. Then
two men spent about a week together going through Shakespeare's play, scene by
scene, line by line, deciding what to cut and how to make the story move at a
brisk cinematic pace. "We sat and chucked ideas back and forth and John noted
them all down, " recalls Fiennes. "The key thing I felt strongly about it setting
it in the present, not some indeterminate period. So everything in the film is
what we see in today's world: suits, cars, graffiti, cell phones. And our â€˜Rome'
is not Rome, Italy; our Rome is a city today. I think we had a first draft
within eight weeks, and we kept refining from there. "
Their approach was to retain Shakespeare's dialogue, though in considerably less
length. Some speeches were shortened and some were moved to different parts of
the text. They made other adjustments to give the screenplay directness, clarity
and contemporary authenticity. For example, the play's First and Second Citizens
became the underground antigovernment activists Cassius and Tamora; the pros and
cons of candidate Coriolanus were hashed out by television pundits, instead of
citizens in the marketplace.
Their work led to Logan's taut, forceful screenplay, which runs just over 100
pages and immediately introduces a city on the brink, its class divisions
glaringly exposed by a food shortage. When the future Coriolanus first appears
in the flesh, it's at the head of a phalanx of police in full riot gear. Says
Logan, "What Ralph and I always wanted to capture was the way the play
makes you feel in the theatre: it hits you like a fist. "
Both Fiennes and Logan served as producers on CORIOLANUS. Joining them on the
production team were Gabrielle Tana, whom Fiennes first approached while they
were working on the 2008 drama THE DUCHESS; Julia Taylor-Stanley, whose credits
include Julie Taymor's THE TEMPEST; and Colin Vaines, who produced A DANGEROUS
MAN: LAWRENCE AFTER ARABIA, the television film that launched Fiennes' star as
an onscreen leading man.
The three seasoned producers were easily persuaded to join Fiennes in his first
filmmaking venture. "The combination of Ralph's vision and John's script made us
all passionate about getting the film made, " Taylor-Stanley notes. "One of the
great things about â€˜Coriolanus' is that it's so little known as a play and yet
it's one of Shakespeare's finest works. The themes are so relevant: a hungry
population, economic uncertainty, the threat of anarchy, and an authoritarian
backlash. Ralph knew the play inside-out, he knew the part inside out, and most
importantly, he knew exactly what he wanted to do in bringing it to the screen.
From the earliest stages of developing CORIOLANUS, Fiennes knew he wanted
Vanessa Redgrave for the key role of Coriolanus' mother, Volumnia. Aristocratic
and patriotic, Volumnia had molded her only son for battle virtually from the
cradle. Redgrave was eager to work with Fiennes as both an actor and director,
but she worried about her ability to burrow into the skin of a character whose
mindset was so different than her own. She finally found a window onto Volumnia
by looking at her own family's years of service in the British military.
Redgrave's grandfather fought in World War I and went on to become headmaster at
the Royal Naval College, where he trained the officers who would ultimately
serve in World War II. Two of Redgrave's uncles fought in Second World War; one
was killed in battle in the Pacific, and another recuperated at her family's
home after his ship was bombed. The actress had her own childhood memories of
World War II and the hours her family spent gathered at the radio. "We listened
to the weather forecast all around the British Isles every night as a matter of
life and death. The Merchant Navy would be trying to avoid German submarines so
they could make port and bring food to the country, " Redgrave says. "I realized
there's a very specific, dedicated mentality held in military families. People
are ready to sacrifice their lives, and mothers are ready for their sons to be
sacrificed. I had to understand that if I was to play Volumnia. "
She continues, "Volumnia is a military woman, and her pride is in the
history of her family. Going back generations, the men in her family have been
fighters and military leaders in wars that have gone on over various decades,
battles lost and battles won, great sacrifices made. That is the essence of
Volumnia, the reason she is so proud of her son and her reason for living. "
A central thread of CORIOLANUS is the code of honor and sense of brotherhood
among soldiers, a sense of shared identity that extends even to opposing armies.
After Volumnia, the person who arguably looms largest in Coriolanus' life is his
sworn enemy, the Volscian guerrilla leader Tullus Aufidius. The filmmakers
brought the project to Gerard Butler, who had previously portrayed warriors in
films such as 300 and BEOWULF and who possessed the kind physicality, charisma
and masculine authority necessary
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