Ralph Fiennes

Screen International, December 20, 2011 | Go to article overview

Ralph Fiennes


It is more than a year since he locked his directorial debut Coriolanus, and Ralph Fiennes is keen for it to be in front of audiences, he tells Mike Goodridge

Ralph Fiennes is keen for his directorial debut Coriolanus to open in theatres, which it does in both the US and UK on January 20 next year. In fact, he is itching for it to reach audiences over a year after he locked the film in late 2010.

"I want it to be out there and living whatever life the film's meant to live and then be doing something else, because whatever people say, good or bad, it's done now," he says. "It's been a very long wait for it to come out on screens and that's odd because you have to keep it on the back burner as something you are going to have to be present with and talk about."

Fiennes first screened Coriolanus for close friends and crew in the first week of December 2010. It had its world premiere to warm reviews in competition at Berlin in February 2011, but when The Weinstein Company picked it up for domestic and Lionsgate for the UK, it became clear that an awards qualifying run at the end of the year and an early 2012 release would be the best roll-out plan for the film.

"Berlin was nerve-wracking," says Fiennes. "We got mostly very good critical response there, which was a good thing. I'm now at the point where I don't want to read any more responses because it's exhausting. It's hugely personal when you are the director. Every time you read the responses, it's mentally draining to negotiate around them."

'Contemporary relevance'

Fiennes' film of one of Shakespeare's lesser-known tragedies is set in a Rome that bears a striking resemblance to a contemporary war-torn Balkan state and was indeed shot in Serbia. As played by Fiennes, Coriolanus is a warrior who refuses to lead his people with sugar-coated words or PR propaganda. In that respect, said Screen's critic Lee Marshall at Berlin this year, he has made "a complex character study that is brimful of contemporary relevance".

Fiennes also managed to attract a dazzling supporting cast including Vanessa Redgrave as Coriolanus' mother Volumnia, Jessica Chastain as his wife Virgilia, Brian Cox as senator and friend Menenius and Gerard Butler as rebel general Tullus Aufidius.

"It seems people have been surprised by something they thought they wouldn't like," Fiennes says. "I have heard how people feel surprised by how much they were engaged by it. The modern setting has worked for many people.

'It seems people have been surprised by something they thought they wouldn't like'Ralph Fiennes

"A minority of people just don't get it," he continues. "They don't get the play, they don't like Coriolanus as a play or a man. Some people simply want their Shakespeare in togas or doublets and hose. I'm nonplussed by that because Shakespeare has been done in so many different ways for so long that it's odd that people still feel that."

The Coriolanus effect

Since completing Coriolanus and presenting it at Berlin, Fiennes hasn't stopped working as an actor. He polished off the Harry Potter series in which he starred in four episodes as the evil Lord Voldemort, reprised his role as Hades in the Clash Of The Titans sequel Wrath Of The Titans, shot a role as the prime minister in David Hare's TV film Page Eight and is currently doing double duty on Mike Newell's Great Expectations, in which he plays Magwitch, and on Sam Mendes' James Bond spectacular Skyfall. …

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