February 19, 2012, by Peter Kirwan

Coriolanus: The Shooting Script

Writing about web page http://www.amazon.co.uk/Coriolanus-Shooting-Script-Newmarket/dp/006220257X

I’ve just been sent a copy of Coriolanus: The Shooting Script by the good folks at Harper Collins. This is part of an ongoing series of carefully packaged and attractive scripts, offering the film text along with insights from the filmmakers, and it’s a fascinating read after seeing the film.

John Logan’s introduction offers a fascinating insight into the rationale behind the heavily edited script. Specifically, they tried to narrow in on the personal story, using "the tools of cinema" to probe "into the most private corners and darkest rooms" (ix). The private and psychological story took precedence over the public elements.

In filmic terms, Coriolanus is compared to the titular protagonists of Citizen Kane and Lawrence of Arabia. He is "similarly opaque and unknowable; he’s neurotic, violent, degraded, and ennobled simultaneously. He is purely and austerely himself" (viii). This tallies with the finished version, particularly its closing scene, which the screenplay describes simply as follows:

Coriolanus’ body is awkwardly tossed into the back of an open truck. Like a sack of potatoes.

Sprawled ungainly in death.

No ritual or ceremony. No honor.

Snap to black. (104)

The script itself is surprisingly poetic, images described in terms of their effect rather than their realisation. The Volscian camp is "like something from LORD OF THE FLIES" (82), and the raging of the mob is descibred as "a terrifying spectacle of sudden mob rage, only a razor-thin edge to violence" (46). As a way into thinking about the process of creating a filmic language, this is a valuable resource.

Longer scene notes by Logan go into interpretation of specific moments. I was particularly interested in Logan’s admission that the film’s "theatrical purple patch" is the speech immediately following Coriolanus’ banishment, where he turns his rejection back on his persecutors (110). Logan recognises the importance of the Act 3 turn, and interestingly relates it to films such as Gladiator and Any Given Sunday, which spin on a central dime. He also discusses the reasons for Menenius’ suicide, the shower scene where Auficius shaves Coriolanus’ head, and the decision not to cut back to Volumnia in the final moments. The exposure of the process is continually enlightening, serving to support and justify the purpose of the film.

Finally, as well as some glossy stills from the shoot, there’s an interview with Ralph Fiennes himself which discusses what drew him to the character and film. Fascinatingly, his choices of cinematic references are films such as The Battle of Algiers, hearkening more towards the documentary and the public. It becomes clear that it is this public focus that Fiennes brought to the film, providing the context for Logan’s more character-focused script.

This will be a great teaching resource for anyone working on the film, but it’s also a great read for anyone interested in Shakespeare or in filmmaking in general. I’ll be interested to look out some other entries in the series, but as a companion to Fiennes’s excellent film, it works beautifully.

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