The common people of Rome are hungry – never has the social inequality between themselves and the wealthy ruling classes been so apparent. Riots are widespread and the people’s fury rapidly becomes focussed on the Republic’s most courageous general, Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes), who has publicly expressed his scorn for their suffering.
But, Rome is also at war with the Volsces, a neighbouring state whose guerrilla-style army is led by Martius’s sworn enemy, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). Following the latest, brazen Volscian taunt, Martius and his comrade-at-arms Titus Lartius (Dragan Micanovic) are called to a council of war by their commanding officer, General Cominius (John Kani). Rome must retaliate.
Martius’s outstanding courage and leadership on the field of battle secures the Volscian city of Corioles for Rome. It is a crushing defeat for the Volscians and, in honour of his victory, Martius is awarded the title ‘Coriolanus’, meaning conqueror of Corioles. The anger of the Roman people has now subsided and Coriolanus has become a hero.
With his recent triumph, Coriolanus’s politically ambitious mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) joyfully anticipates her son being elected to the powerful Senate position of Consul. Influential Roman Senator, and Coriolanus’s political mentor, Menenius (Brian Cox) encourages him. Always in the background, Coriolanus’s gentle and loving wife, Virgilia (Jessica Chastsain), worries for her husband’s continued safety.
To become Consul, Coriolanus knows he must first secure the people’s support and at first he is loath to engage in the necessary glad-handing. He sees it as hypocritical and an affront to his personal honour code. Under pressure, he finally relents but, not a natural politician, he handles his canvassing without the required good grace and arouses ill feeling in his audience. His past public declarations have already established him as a threat to the people in the minds of their representatives, the Tribunes. And now the conspiratorial Tribunes, Brutus (Paul Jesson) and Sicinius (James Nesbitt) take full advantage of Coriolanus’s rapid fall from public favour to persuade voters to refuse him the office he seeks. The Tribunes campaign is further supported by an underground group of left-wing rebels, led by Cassius (Ashraf Barhom) and Tamora (Lubna Azabal), who also speak out against Coriolanus’s election. Their combined arguments work and he is defeated.
Coriolanus is enraged and his verbal retaliation leads to further public rioting. Disgraced, the Senate banishes him from Rome.
Now stateless and seeking revenge for Rome’s ingratitude and treachery, Coriolanus journeys to the city of Antium, the Volscian capital and home to his enemy, Tullus Aufidius. With nothing to lose, he seeks out his old adversary and boldly offers him a choice. Aufidius can either take Coriolanus’s life or accept his help in defeating Rome. Confronted by his greatest enemy, Aufidius must decide whether to finally destroy his rival or join forces with him in battle…
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