Vanessa Redgrave already has one Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (“Julia,” 1977) and she may need room on her mantel for another with the release of “Coriolanus.” She brings such a vibrancy to her role as Volumnia, the mother of ancient Roman general Gaius Marcius Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes), she steals the movie from a remarkable ensemble.
The undeniable high point of “Coriolanus” comes during a fiery, impassioned monologue in the final act brilliantly delivered by Redgrave. Pleading with her son — who has been banished from Rome — not to take revenge on the city, Redgrave secures her place in the Best Supporting Actress race by tackling the Bard’s words with a confidence and capability almost never seen in Shakespearean adaptations. She will join a short list of women to be nominated for Shakespearean roles that includes Maggie Smith (“Othello,” 1965), Jean Simmons (“Hamlet,” 1948), and Norma Shearer (“Romeo and Juliet,” 1936).
No stranger to the awards scene, Redgrave already has six Oscar nominations to her credit. The most recent was for “Howards End” in 1992, but the near twenty-year gap since her last nomination hardly signifies that her career has slowed down. Redgrave has been active on the Broadway stage, reaping three Tony nods in the last ten years including a win for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in 2003. She also picked up a couple Emmy bids in that time, winning for her supporting turn in the telefilm “If These Walks Could Talk 2” (2000).
“Coriolanus” marks a competent directorial debut for Fiennes, but his truer accomplishment is as the film’s leading man. It is peculiar he has so little Oscar buzz since his brooding, occasionally explosive performance equals his nominated turns in “The English Patient” (1996) and “Schindler’s List” (1993).
Redgrave, whose monologue moves his character to tears in the film, has understandably stolen his thunder. To prevail at the Oscars, she must overcome strong competition from Octavia Spencer who stood out among the many women in “The Help.”
Friday’s announcement of the Academy making Redgrave the recipient of its first-ever European tribute to a thespian certainly boosts her profile. David Hare hosts the Nov. 13 event in London with speakers including Fiennes, Meryl Streep (who made her screen debut in “Julia”), daughter Joely Richardson, recent Broadway co-star James Earl Jones and Dame Eileen Atkins.
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