“Cyrano,” is the latest film adaptation (1950, 1987, 1990) of the 1897 French play “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand. The show’s popularity on the boards has been enhanced over time with theatrical revivals, a 1973 Broadway musical starring Christopher Plummer, reworked in operas and other literary forms, and even as a ballet.
Central to the theme is the very large and ugly nose on a poet who has deep feelings for a woman, making him feel as if he is unlovable. Cyrano a talented scribe and an excellent swordsman, is secretly in love with Roxanne who’s a lover of poetry. Because of his perceived unattractive appearance, Cyrano fears rejection and struggles to reveal his true feelings to her.
Director Joe Wright says, “It’s about the human need for connection, and how we often fail to connect with other people. Perhaps this film can help to express what I believe to be true, which is that we are more similar than we are different, despite outward appearances.”
Onscreen Peter Dinklage takes the role of the soldier/poet (his natural limited size replacing the traditional prosthetic schnoz) Cyrano considers a barrier to being the manly lover he so longs to be. Dinklage’s acting career has not been hampered by his physical height limitations. “The Station Agent” (2003) is a career highlight, while the long-running television series “Game of Thrones” enabled the actor to further define his considerable dramatic skills, a verification his physical height is not an obstacle. Give him a role and he’ll knock it down to size.
The story is well known, but in this cinematic updating (written by Erica Schmidt, the star’s wife), Dinklage isn’t swashbuckling like Errol Flynn of old. The actor limns a tender, melancholy, though cynical poet, a loner and martyr overflowing with bravado, passion and frivolous wit. The beautiful Roxanne (Haley Bennett), has a romantic interest in the handsome but inarticulate cadet recruit Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) which gives Cyrano the opportunity to ghost write ardent love letters for his charming opponent. Profound words of deep affection flowing from Cyrano’s pen will, in reality, be spurious statements of love claimed by Christian.
For the first time, the original narrative plays out as a romantic musical (composed by the brothers Bryce/Aaron Dessner) which enhances the sentimental whimsical charms director Wright has instilled in his period opus that refreshes the title character.
Unrequited love is at the heart of this fable which also divulges the tragedy of war and the ways it disrupts the lives of people. Alternately, there’s visual delight and sumptuous bacchanal enchantment as crowds of people dance with rapturous pleasure in theaters, across market squares, in castle ballrooms. It’s a colourful carnival of happiness augmenting the film’s dream of love.
“Cyrano de Bergerac,” a classic worthy of sharing bookshelf space with the Bard’s plays, has a French revolutionary spirit adding to the film’s contentment. Nevertheless, a cry has been heard….“why is it a musical?” There are interludes when the songs interrupt the characters’ mindset for ill-timed and rather forgettable interims. A junky rock song sung by the villain is an antithesis to a tedious heavy piano ballad meant to emphasize Cyrano’s hidden emotions. A film of quality like this shouldn’t be encumbered with a clunky musical sound track. However, it still manages to fascinate.
Director Wright, who previously directed “Atonement” (2007) and “Darkest Hour” (2017), says he identified with the original French play from a young age, adding, “I was one of those kids who felt like they were odd and other and unworthy of love, so I always connected to the story.”
The historic protruding proboscis isn’t missed; however, the movie could have been enhanced with more passion, imagination, and less being a throwback to the MGM musicals of yore. Peter Dinklage saves the day standing tall as Cyrano de Bergerac, the romantic, sad of heart figure who could have been the inspiration for George Gershwin’s Tin Pan Alley classic, “They’re Writing Songs of Love, But Not For Me.”