Shakespeare could have been filmmaker, Fiennes says

Reuters, Tuesday 15 Feb 2011

An adaptation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus set in the 21st century and filmed in Belgrade is relevant to mass-protests around the Arab region

William Shakespeare would have been a great scriptwriter if he were alive today because his writing fits the cinema, British actor Ralph Fiennes said on Monday after the world premiere of his film Coriolanus.

Fiennes, who directs and stars in the modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare's 17th century tale of a renegade Roman general, said the tragedy is a timeless political thriller about power, manipulation and public unrest. He made the film in Belgrade.

"I can't help but think that if Shakespeare were alive today he would write very easily for the cinema, for the big screen," Fiennes said after hard-hitting Coriolanus was applauded at a news conference. He said he would like to film more Shakespeare.

Coriolanus is a powerful tragedy about the legendary 5th century BC Roman general but set in the 21st century and its tense inner-city battle scenes were filmed in Belgrade.

The general, a heroic military leader played by Fiennes, falls out with Rome after a misguided switch into politics. The film also stars Vanessa Redgrave as his pushy mother and Gerald Butler as his nemesis.

Wearing modern combat gear and uniforms, the general is ultimately banished from Rome and switches allegiances to support his erstwhile enemy Tullus Auficius, played by Butler, to extract revenge on Rome.

The film is set against the backdrop of a country caught up in an economic crisis and a long war with the masses - clad in 21st century clothes - enraged by food shortages and inequality, timeless ingredients for tension.

"This is our world, you know," Fiennes told Reuters. "We switch on CNN and see people in the square in Cairo. All over the world we see these things - Athens, or Paris or demonstrations in Burma."

Fiennes, making his directorial debut with the film that he also produced, said he has been thinking about making the film for the last ten years, after also playing the title role on the stage in London.

"The idea of Coriolanus as a film was inside my head and heart for some time," he said. "All around me, there were things happening around the world that echoed the events in the story. I wanted it to be just now, today, as accessible and as present as it could be."

Coriolanus is one of the 16 films competing for the Berlinale's top Golden and Silver Bear awards. The festival, one of the world's most important, runs until 20 February.

Butler said he was delighted to have the chance to act in the film about a decaying, over-extended empire as a change of pace from the romantic comedies that have made him famous.

"I had done my fair share of dramas but they're not the ones the people tend to remember," Butler said, adding he had even performed in a stage performance of Coriolanus early in his career. "They only tend to remember the romantic comedies. This was a chance to work a different muscle and try something different."

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