Cyrano de Bergerac is a tale old as time yet seems to have vanished from cultural discourse in the 21st century. But a new fresh take on the story, presented here as a musical by Joe Wright, adapts the 1897 play from Edmond Rostand in a way that feels as relevant and meaningful today as it did upon its debut.
Set in 17th century France, the country at war with Spain and social and class status still playing a huge role in society, Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) is a charming and sharp soldier famed for his wins at battle. However, he is also a poet and desperately in love with childhood friend Roxanne (Haley Bennett), but doubts his appeal to her due to his short stature. Simultaneously Roxanne is being courted by Duc (Ben Mendelsohn), as she falls in love at first sight with Cyrano’s fellow officer Christian (Kelvin Harris Jnr.), a handsome but ineloquent young man. Through a twist of fate, Cyrano provides tips to Christian and decides to stand in for him as a romantic love letter writer, expressing his own love to her through letters signed by Christian.
The biggest departure this adaptation has from the original is Cyrano’s “fault” has been changed from his large nose to his shorter stature, and Dinklage plays this tension well, particularly as he balances his want to be with Roxanne with his own “damnation” of height. He is excellent throughout, his voice strong when needed and brings charisma to the role that feels genuine and appealing to the audience. Bennett plays Roxanne wistfully and with great yearning, her voice simple and melodic in its delivery.
The transition of the story to a musical both surpasses expectations and still has faults. Song and dance sequences are a far cry from the more traditional Hollywood dance numbers viewers have become accustomed to. Songs are delivered delicately and with real meaning. The original music by Aaron and Bryce Dessner from The National compliments the characters, though at times overwhelms the film. Scenes that could have been without songs add to its long runtime and sound repetitive, but others are filled with melancholy and provide additional depth to the characters.
Most of the film rests on Wright’s shoulders. He’s had enormous success with films like Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and Anna Karenina, with broad emotional strokes paired with attention to detail in production design, costuming and cinematography. Yet he still seems burdened by his recent failures such as The Woman In The Window, which struggle to feel intimate and have broad appeal. Here he leans towards the epic romances of his early years, and still carefully guards the designs and emotions for a more restrained version.
It succeeds at times because of its sensuality and human-driven actions. Yet it falters due to it not being as emotionally impactful as it could have been. Fortunately, Wright never forgets its place within the literary canon and its undercurrent of tragedy and fills the screen with incredible colour palettes and stunning mise en scenes. There are close-ups that give us insight yet subsequent moments that fail to deliver on promises. Overall Cyrano, is playful and beautiful, but with an undercurrent of sadness of the limits of pride. It haunts after the credits but sadly fails to soar in the minutes during.