Joe Wright has made a visually memorable movie out of Edmond Rostand’s famous 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac.
Wright’s movie, Cyrano, makes one major change to the play which is about a man unable to tell a woman he loves her because he fears his appearance will lead her to reject him.
In previous incarnations it has been the size of Cyrano’s nose which has been the issue. In Wright’s movie it’s Cyrano’s height.
The movie, based on a 2018 stage musical, depicts Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) as excelling at almost everything. A member of the King’s Guard, he’s a brilliant writer, orator and swordsman. In fact, he is extremely confident in all aspects of life, apart from matters of the heart.
He has always been in love with lifelong friend, the beautiful and intellectual Roxanne (Haley Bennett), who shares his love of words. But he has never been able to tell her so. He believes his short stature would stop her ever being attracted to him.
Roxanne is being aggressively pursued by the powerful and predatory Duke De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn) for whom she feels nothing. Although she has no money and no other options for supporting herself, Roxanne is an independent woman who wants to marry for love.
Then one night at the theatre she locks eyes with King’s Guard recruit Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr) and it is love at first sight for both of them.
In a particularly moving scene Roxanne pleads with Cyrano to watch over and protect Christian, totally unaware of how Cyrano feels for her.
Cyrano agrees to do so and then encourages Christian to woo Roxanne with love letters. On discovering Christian is basically a good man but with no literary skills, Cyrano offers to write the letters. This allows Cyrano to express his true feelings to Roxanne, albeit through someone else.
Such is the impact of Cyrano’s letters that Roxanne and Christian marry despite a rather awkward face to face meeting which produces some amusing interactions. The marriage has disastrous consequences thanks to the vengeful De Guiche who has the power to decide who fights in a war being waged by the French King.
The stage musical also starred Dinklage and Bennett, helping to explain why both look so comfortable in their roles.
Dinklage especially gives a wonderful performance as the tortured vulnerable love-sick Cyrano. Some of his facial expressions are truly moving. Bennett is totally believable as the feisty Roxanne as is Harrison as her love-sick suitor and Mendelsohn’s as the sleazy Duke.
Together with the acting the other joy of Cyrano is its lush production values. Wright (whose previous movies have included Darkest Hour, Anna Karenina, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) filmed the movie in a small town in Sicily with Mt Etna used as a backdrop for the battle scenes.
He and his team brilliantly recreate 17th century France with colourful sets and stunning costumes all of which are beautifully captured on film.
Wright’s use of songs to illustrate key moments brings back memories of films such as Camelot and Les Misérables. Songs for both the stage show and movie were written by members of the band, The National.
While a number of these songs are imaginatively choreographed, occasionally a song does takes away the impact of the scene. At the same time Wherever I Fall sung by soldiers destined for death on the battlefield perfectly captures the horror of war.
The raw, heartbreaking feel of this and the final scenes between Cyrano and Christian and Cyrano and Roxanne ensures Cyrano provides an emotional cinematic experience.
Cyrano is currently showing in cinemas around Australia.
*Photo credit: Peter Mountain. © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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