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Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Erica Schmidt, based on the play by Edmond Rostand
Starring Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Ben Mendelsohn
Classification PG; 124 minutes
Opens Feb. 25 in theatres
There are certain foundational works of art that have been adapted to death. I can and will watch any interpretation of Pride and Prejudice or Emma; likewise a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet. But one story that doesn’t get the adaptation treatment it deserves – despite it being the most classic tale of unrequited love of the past hundred or so years – is Cyrano de Bergerac.
While plenty of recent films have taken inspiration from it (Netflix had two loose adaptations in the past two years), what I crave is a more direct film adaptation of the play. And who better to take on the task than Joe Wright (Atonement, Anna Karenina and, yes, Pride & Prejudice)?
Cyrano is the first true adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s work that we’ve seen on screen since the 1990 French adaptation starring Gérard Depardieu. The basic plot is as similar to the source material as possible, save for a few changes. Like the 1973 Broadway stage adaptation, the film is a musical. Also, rather than having Cyrano’s low confidence stem from his enormous nose, the insecurity stems from his short stature.
Cyrano (Peter Dinklage), famous for his way with words and charm, is in love with his childhood friend Roxane (Haley Bennett). (In the play and 1990 film he falls for his cousin.) Roxane, though, is in love with Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who is gorgeous but not gifted at expressing his feelings. As a favour to Christian, Cyrano writes letters on his behalf to Roxane, creating a messy and tragic love triangle.
Watching Wright’s film, it’s easy to see why this story isn’t one that gets adapted often: It’s sad in a way that is too relatable. It’s difficult to toe the line between empathy and pity, which is easily what could happen when watching Cyrano work through his unrequited love, and seeing how a man so confident could also be so quietly self-doubting. Dinklage does a supreme job at balancing all of Cyrano’s complexities. He is bold and soulful. Even with the support of Bennett and Harrison Jr., it’s hard to imagine any other actor embodying so much at once.
The film is a joy to watch, even for viewers (such as myself) who aren’t always sold on musicals. Make no mistake, the music isn’t always the strongest – but the visuals are bold enough to look past that. Wright has created a truly rich and vibrant world, full of dramatic sets. Most importantly, the film is genuinely fun, with enough of an emotional pull to justify some of its bigger swings.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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