27 Feb 2022
Erica Schmidt, Edmond Rostand
Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Ben Mendelsohn,
Physical and emotional beauty have always been uncomfortable bed fellows and formed the basis for Edmund Rostand’s legendary 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac. Ten adaptations and a dozen more inspired by the story have been committed to celluloid. This latest version directed by Joe Wright is a dazzling addition to the canon. With a literate and effusive script from Erica Schmidt it shines like a diamond in the sunlight. A selection of tuneful songs also help to refresh a narrative that had previously felt too pedestrian.
The notion of a woman finding the perfect love hovering between two men is a well-trodden path; a contemporary setting would have the woman turn to the man and say ‘I love you as a friend’. It is a bittersweet putdown to the unfortunate soul who engenders love but not passion. In this tale Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) has worshipped Roxanne (Haley Bennett) from afar but never been able to reveal his love for her. When the handsome Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) joins the guards regiment Roxanne immediately falls in love. She seeks the counsel of Cyrano who reluctantly agrees to act as go between. Christian confesses his love for Roxanne but lacks the words to gain her affections. A crestfallen Cyrano agrees to give him the tools to make his greatest love truly happy.
It’s a beautifully constructed piece that feels invigorated by the songs that give the story an ethereal, almost dream like quality. Peter Dinklage is well cast as Cyrano who pitches his character at the level that inspires support rather than pity. The only real downside is a limited vocal range that often struggles to stay on top of the musical numbers. But Dinklage raps his way through with a certain pizazz. Haley Bennett looks stunning and has the finest voice among the cast. Kelvin Harrison Jr. has the least challenging role but provides the essential third corner in the story’s triangle. Like all the best costume dramas Cyrano also has its baddie in the form of regiment commander De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn). He has designs on Roxanne and sees an opportunity to cause mischief as the regiment receives its orders for battle.
The film is not just a conventional love story; it features many elements of the classic Hollywood swashbuckling adventure. There are visually stunning set pieces to enjoy including a combat sequence with some slick sword play. However, Cyrano doesn’t play up the comedic potential of the story as well as it might. The balcony sequence was played straight a la Romeo & Juliet, and felt like a missed opportunity to inject some light relief. But overall this feels like the best version of the story yet; a novel experience for a remake?