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Fiennes Modernizes Shakespeare's 'Coriolanus'

BERLIN  -- For his debut as a director, Ralph Fiennes has pulled the Shakespearean tragedy "Coriolanus" into the present-day world of 24-hour news coverage of riots and politics.

Fiennes takes the lead as a great but proud and flawed Roman general in the movie, which had its premiere Monday at the Berlin film festival.

He stars alongside Vanessa Redgrave, who plays his iron-willed mother, Volumnia and Gerard Butler, cast as Coriolanus' sworn enemy, Tullus Aufidius.

Fiennes said he had thought about making a film of "Coriolanus" - a tale of heroism, political manipulation, unrest and revenge - since appearing in the play on stage a decade ago. He gave some thought to setting the movie in ancient Rome or in the 19th century.

"(But) I kept on seeing images in the newspaper or television which seemed to come from this story," Fiennes told reporters - citing Russia's wars in Chechnya, riots in Athens and the latest global economic crisis.

The film starts with a food shortages riot in a city in crisis.

"I felt more and more convinced that the world around us was the right setting for the piece," he said.

Fiennes filmed the movie in Belgrade, with the Serbian parliament building serving as a modern-day Roman Senate. Coriolanus' unsuccessful run for a consulship, his banishment from Rome and his subsequent campaign against the city are covered partly as breaking-news television footage - complete with Shakespearean language.

The British actor said Baz Luhrmann's 1995 take on "Romeo and Juliet" helped convince him that a modern take on the bard's work could succeed.

"300" star Butler said dealing with "full-on Shakespeare" was a new experience for him.

"In a lot of ways, the words do all the talking," he said. "It's really a beautiful experience."

Fiennes may not be done with bringing Shakespeare to the screen; he says he could imagine taking on "Antony and Cleopatra."

"Not only is it an extraordinarily great love story, but it's written arguably quite cinematically," he said. "I can't help feeling (that), if Shakespeare was alive today, he would write very easily for the cinema."

"Coriolanus" is one of 16 films competing for the Berlin festival's top Golden Bear honor, which will be awarded on Saturday.

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