From stage to screen, there have been many adaptations of Edmond Rostand’s elegantly lyrical Cyrano de Bergerac. British director Joe Wright is the latest to step up to the mark and put his musical twist on the opening film from the very first Red Sea International Film Festival and manages to stay respectful of the original author’s vision.
Based on the stage musical by Erica Schmidt, Peter Dinklage and Hayley Bennett take on the roles of Cyrano and Roxanne respectively, reprising their roles from previous stage adaptations. Wright has erased Cyrano’s glaring humongous nose flaw and uses Dinklage’s height as Cyrano’s major insecurity and it works flawlessly well thanks to Dinklage’s charm and magnificent brilliance.
Set in the 17th century, there is an understated sophistication with just a hint of clownery as Cyrano, a poetic genius and master swordsman dotes on his unrequited love for childhood friend Roxanne. Writing daily letters of love without sending them for fear of rejection, his dismay intensifies when Roxanne falls for the devilishly handsome Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). This soldier in Cyrano’s regiment, is less than articulate with his words of romance and enlists the help of Cyrano to help intoxicate Roxanne’s heart.
Although Harrison Jr. fits perfectly well into this narrative, the contentious issue remains that having a Black actor in this role, asking a white man to articulate his feelings, can be construed as him needing a white saviour to help him achieve his goal of winning the girl’s heart.
On the musical numbers, most are forgettable, although the transitions from dialogue to song are deliciously fluid, there are three that make a big impact on setting the mood of each given scene and tugging on the heartstrings. Dinklage gives an impassioned performance in front of Roxanne’s balcony as he pours out his heart and soul on behalf of Christian. The war scene number, set in front of Mount Etna with a gloomy atmospheric aesthetic, belted out with pain and passion from the soldiers on the frontline awakens reality to the pitfalls of war. Finally, as the tragic story nears its end, Roxanne realises Cyrano’s involvement and his undying love, will shatter even the most hardened of hearts into tiny little pieces.
If you are looking for something more like Steve Martin’s 1987 comedy Roxanne, whilst the base of the storyline remains the same, Cyrano couldn’t be further away in its deliverance. Infused with delicate rosebuds of poetry and erudition, Wright’s romanticism for period pieces shines brightly in this bleak world.