Art, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Cinema Nova, Coriolanus, Deborah Findlay, Donmar Warehouse, Hadley Fraser, Inspiration, Josie Rourke, Mark Gatiss, National Theatre Live, NT Live, Peter De Jersey, Tom HIddleston, William Shakespeare
Ok, so I should probably admit right off that this only barely counts as a movie; it was the National Theatre Live’s recording of ‘Coriolanus‘. This was staged as a play in the Donmar Warehouse in London, filmed, and shown at the Nova.
‘Coriolanus’ is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays, and is a political thriller set in very early ancient Rome. Caius Martius Coriolanus (Tom Hiddleston) is a decorated and accomplished soldier in the Roman army, and a bit of an asshat. Menenius (Mark Gatiss) and his mother, Volumnia (Deborah Findlay) try to have Coriolanus elected as a Consul, but it all goes a bit awry because Coriolanus has to be himself; he can’t play the political game.
It has been said that this is Shakespeare’s bloodiest play and one of the most visceral; that is talks about the body the most. There’s lots of fighting, and this production uses lots and lots of fake blood (side note: Tom Hiddleston covered in fake blood is thoroughly enjoyable). Part of me feels like I missed out a bit on the experience of seeing it live, and this is largely influenced by the amount of shouting that happened. There is something intense about being in a room with someone who is screaming their hatred that cannot be captured on film, not least because when you record something you fiddle with the levels; you make the whispering louder so it can be heard, and you make the shouting softer so that it doesn’t blow our eardrums/speakers. Having seen another play in the flesh the night before in which the cast were about five metres away and their shouting was honestly frightening, I wanted to have the same reaction to ‘Coriolanus’ but just couldn’t.
Now, that’s not to say that it wasn’t an outstanding experience. The play seems to have been written as almost exclusively darkness, and though Shakespeare wrote in a couple of gags, the cast were able to bring in bit more levity with some sarcastic tones, and the best of these were delivered by Menenius – who takes on the role of the fool for part of the play. I’ve been a big fan of Mark Gatiss’s work for a while, not least because of his roles in ‘Sherlock’, but I hadn’t realised the depth of this acting ability until this production. Not only does he do some excellent shouting, he also does some excellent crying.
On the other hand the main women in this production, Volumnia and Virgilia (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), Coriolanus’s mother and wife respectively, were less than extraordinary. I mean they were good, but Deborah Findlay became a bit much in her shouty bits, I think she needed a little bit more light and shade. Sørensen (who you might know from Borgen) seemed to spend and awful lot of her time weeping in a bit of a pathetic way and I think a bit less crying at the start might have made the crying she did at the end more effective.
In the title role, Tom Hiddleston was epic. He was brutal, he was callous, he was a total bastard toward his fellow Romans, but he was also completely convinced that he was right. I think it would be hard to play a role that is this close to grotesque without making a mockery of it. Hiddleston also did some very good light and shade in his shouting bits and, without giving away any spoilers, was really good at the end.
All of the cast did a great job with the language, Shakespeare can be a bit dense sometimes and I will readily admit that I missed a fair chunk of it, but there was never a moment in which I didn’t know what was happening. Not one tripped over their words or made their part sound like a foreign language (which it kind of is, especially for Sørensen who’s Danish).
In terms of the production itself the space at the Donmar Warehouse is quite unusual so they made a conscious decision to keep the props and backdrops to a minimum. I think the bareness of the setting made the acting seem that little bit more other-worldly; that little bit more impressive.
I don’t really know what else I can add except that if you get a chance to see this film, you should definitely go! I am going to give this 4.5 out of 5 stars, with the caveat that if I had seen it for realsies, it think it would have been a 5.