Ralph Fiennes spoke exclusively to ScreenDaily yesterday (May 16) about his directorial debut Coriolanus.

The project is set to start shooting early next year in Belgrade. And he is determined not to make a stale cinematic version of Shakespeare. “People who have read the script think it’s a page-turner,” he said. “I want it to be an edge-of-the-seat film.”

Fiennes will also star in the film playing Coriolanus, Vanessa Redgrave has signed on to play his mother Volumnia and rising star Jessica Chastain (The Debt, Tree Of Life) his wife Virgilia. William Hurt will also star.

John Logan, the US writer of Gladiator, The Last Samurai and The Aviator, has written the script for Coriolanus which Fiennes first played on stage in London in 2000. “I became obsessed with the play and couldn’t lose the idea from my mind of it being a film. If you are rigorous in adapting it, it ends up like a political thriller.”

Logan, Fiennes said, has “aggressively edited” the original text and fortified the “high tension story” revolving around the family dynamic at its core and the subject of inter-state conflict. Fiennes and Logan have moved the setting from ancient Rome to “a power state today”. Belgrade, he adds, is perfect for his anywhere location with its blend of neo-classical and contemporary architecture. “Belgrade also has something bruised about it which is appropriate for this story,” he says.

Fiennes references Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) as setting the bar for making Shakespeare accessible to contemporary audiences. “I don’t want it to be in that Shakespeare voice that puts you off,” he says. “Audiences want to hear Shaksepeare and they understand more than they think they are going to. The second film I ever saw was Olivier’s Henry V when I was nine years old and I loved it.”

He also says that he is referencing Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle Of Algiers for its neo-realist portrait of a city in conflict.

Fiennes says he will work closely with his DP Barry Ackroyd, a Ken Loach regular who also shot United 93 and Fiennes-starrer The Hurt Locker. “He has a brilliant eye for composition but also a very simple style that works for Ken Loach,” he says.

As for directing, he says he is naturally nervous. “I’ve become more and more clear that it is what I want to do,” he says and cites the different styles of film-makers he has worked with including Anthony Minghella, Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg, Istvan Szabo, Stephen Daldry and David Cronenberg.

“I wouldn’t know how to be baroque with a  camera,” he says. “I want honest camerawork to reflect the scene that is going on. I loved how Istvan Szabo shot which was very simply capturing the actors.”

Icon came on board when Bill Pohlad’s River Road Entertainment dropped out last year, but Fiennes says that River Road played a “huge part in the development process.” Pohlad also recommended that Fiennes meet with Chastain who starred in River Road’s Tree Of Life for director Terrence Malick.

Yesterday in Cannes, he presented a “mood reel” to buyers which included footage of sample scenes which he and Redgrave have shot to show how their mother-son relationship will play.

He says that he and Ackroyd have collected hundreds of images from current conflicts which will act as visual references for the film. “The story is about the eternal war that never stops,” he says. “It could be Israel and Palestine or Russia and Chechnya.”

Icon Entertainment International has take on sales for the film. Producers on the film are Julia Taylor-Stanley of Artemis Films and Gabrielle Tana of Magnolia Mae Films.