Sunday, 22 January 2012

Coriolanus - the movie

I suppose the enduring appeal of this story - for anyone with an interest in politics - concerns the sin of pride and the perennial problem of calculating exactly how necessary it is for politician to lower himself to get what he wants from the plebs.

To behave as Coriolanus did was the indulgence every politician fantasises about doing - to insult the great unwashed on whom their careers depend, if they operate in any political environment that pretends to be democratic.

The story of Gaius Martius was of a man who had gone mad with arrogance.  He declares that he would not ask forgiveness from the gods, much less the plebs whom he had insulted.  All Roman generals were required to show their war wounds to the people to gain their favour in order to consul, but this he could not bring himself to do with any humility.  Far worthier men had done the same, he was reminded, but this well-meant advice fell on stony ground.

The fighting scenes were certainly realistic, demonstrating the martial skills of Gaius Martius who, having conquered the Corioles was thenceforth dubbed Coriolanus.

In direct previous contrast to his previous success, Coriolanus showed himself to be the easy victim of the tribunes once back in Rome who wished him ill for his arrogance, and walked into every single trap they set him, revealing his self-indulgent anger and his overweening pride - both deadly sins, of course.

By physically attacking one of the tribunes that was such a trouble to him he ended up exiled from Rome.  In his exile he joined forces with the Volscis, Rome's enemies, to avenge himself on the people of Rome.

This he was persuaded from doing by his mother played by Vanessa Redgrave, who managed to command him even as she was on her knees begging him to spare the people of Rome.  If there is any actress at all who can do "beseech insolently and commandingly" then that actress is Vanessa Redgrave.

One of the little treats of the film is seeing Jon Snow declaiming the Channel 4 news in iambic pentameters.

A peace treaty was signed between Rome and the Volscis.  Gaius Martius returned to his Volscian allies who were understandably miffed that he had deprived them of a victory just because his mum had told him off.  They then surrounded him and killed him Ides of March style after he arrogantly insulted them and called them "slaves".

If his pride had allowed him to think, Coriolanus would have seen that the Volscis would have no further use for him after he had deprived them of their victory over Rome.  If his self regard had been less, he would have thought twice about returning to face their deadly anger.

The moral of the story is as follows.

1.  No man alone however skilled in war is greater than Rome.

2.  No man should dishonour the traditions of his fathers and his city without good reason.

3.  We are nothing without our supporters, cause, party and nation.

4.  We are nothing without our traditions, for it is our traditions that make us distinct from other peoples with other traditions.

5.  Pride is a deadly sin.

Perhaps it was after Coriolanus that the Roman tradition of calling upon a slave to whisper in the ear of the triumphant general began, to remind him that he is only mortal.

After the film we came across a little shop which generated cries of rapturous delight.

Himmler having tea on a chaise longue

We had a very nice tea at Richoux in Piccadilly.

They thought of  going to Hatchards, but I suggested which I think they appreciated more in the end. From the 4th floor in the military history section we saw this rather charming owl on top of one of the buildings in Jermyn Street.   Oddly, the building itself is called Eagle House, rather than Owl House ....

All in all a very cultured and elegant outing by the London Forum whose organiser informs me that we are going to be doing High Culture from now on, because it is so cheering and life-affirming as we work towards a form of nationalism that is also cheering and life affirming as well as moral, moneyed and noble.  I believe the kind of nationalism that would work and appeal to the wider British public is the ideologically inclusive kind that incorporates the aristocratic and masculine virtues rather than the racially exclusive kind through which the worst of  proletarian and feminine vices are manifested. may well be our next cultural outing.

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