Ralph Fiennes’ film adaptation of Coriolanus, now out on DVD, marries Shakespeare’s dialogue to a 21st-century setting to retell the story of the Roman general Caius Marcius, nicknamed Coriolanus for his valor during a siege of the city of Corioli. Fiennes’ Roman Republic is thoroughly contemporary. Troops are equipped with high-tech accoutrements, senators are strikingly Washingtonian, and protesters are drawn from stock Hollywood movie tropes of the last decade.
Still, Coriolanus remains a quintessentially Roman story and figure. The Volscian campaigns in which Coriolanus made his name were not the same as the easily recognizable imperial follies that followed. It’s tricky to transplant to the modern day the story of a general spurned by his government who allies with a national enemy to seek revenge; such things don’t happen much these days. But depictions of political ineptitude and national security theater are unfortunately timeless. —Ed Krayewski