The story of Cyrano de Bergerac has been adapted many times over or served as an influence quite often for good reason. It’s one of the great unabashed love stories and the source of many familiar tropes for romantic tales. Cyrano is a unique take on the story, as it has transformed Edmond Rostand’s classic play into a musical and puts Peter Dinklage at the forefront (focusing now on the man’s size instead of his nose). The results are, frankly, wonderful. Director Joe Wright put all of his highly theatrical muscle behind one of the loveliest films of the year, which is especially impressive given how the story of Cyrano is a tragic one.
While the musical element provides a new angle on how these characters convey emotion to one another, the premise is the same. Set in 17th-century Paris, Cyrano (Dinklage) is a man of many talents, including that of a poet and a swordsman. His diminutive size makes him self-conscious, which keeps him from revealing his true feelings for Roxanne (Haley Bennett).
Enter Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a physical rival compared to Cyrano. At first sight, he instantly falls for Roxanne, and she seemingly feels the same. Not equipped intellectually to truly win Roxanne over with his words, circumstances bring Christian and Cyrano together, leading to Cyrano offering his skills as a poet to Christian, bringing everyone closer together, with impactful results.
Whether or not one already knows this tale, it really is seeing how Wright brings this version to life that brings so much joy. Looking at some of Wright’s other period dramas, such as Anna Karenina and Pride & Prejudice, I was, of course, expecting to see a very visual film, complete with all the fancy costumes and elaborate production designs for this setting. Thanks to the musical component’s ability to heighten the story and characters, Wright and his team have even more of a chance to push the boundaries of this story by embracing stylized moments of synchronized choreography and intricate staging.
Written by Erica Schmidt (Dinklage’s wife), first for the stage and then for this cinematic adaptation, with music by members of the alternative rock band The National, it’s impressive to see a new version of this story not only embrace the romantic element of the story but really dig into each of the themes surrounding it. This is a story about beauty, unrequited love, finding one’s courage, and more. Thanks to what’s provided for the actors, Cyrano never loses track of showing how each of these characters is being guided by their heart.
Being incredibly earnest, it means the film takes big swings quite frequently. In a lesser film, it’s the sort of gamble that could result in a loss of emotional depth. Under Wright’s guidance, there’s a lot of splendor and honesty to take in. None of this would be possible without a cast up to the task of connecting with the material.
First and foremost, Dinklage is excellent here. Having already performed the stage version of this adaptation with Bennett, and given who wrote it, he’s certainly at one with this character, but what a place to be. Providing the level of charisma and swagger needed to introduce his take on the character properly to audiences before getting to his endearing romantic side, it’s never a wonder why this man was able to breakout to such a popular degree on Game of Thrones. That only says so much of his considerable talents, though, as Dinklage has to play into so many emotions as Cyrano, but he carries this responsibility with so much vigor and expression.
The rest of the cast can only try to keep up, but they are as effective as needed. Bennett’s Roxanne may be a character multiple men are trying to win, but the story has always been wise enough to give her a sense of agency. It’s not just seeing what she’s attracted to, but understanding she can think for herself and know what’s coming through as true statements, as opposed to empty gestures.
Similarly, Harrison finds a nice space to occupy as the well-meaning romantic who thinks he knows what his heart is telling him, even if he’s not the best at adequately putting his emotions on display. The film’s colorblind casting also means the focus can remain on his eagerness to please, along with his physicality, which is most interesting when playing up against Dinklage.
As a musical, Wright finds plenty of opportunities to utilize big crowds in ways that please his desires to construct set pieces that are deliberately shown thanks to how involved they are. D.P. Seamus McGarvey, a Wright regular, gets plenty out of the various locations. The film’s atmosphere plays well with the moody lyrics and rhythm of what The National has cooked up for the various numbers.
From a vocal standpoint, the actors all have a timbre. The men are certainly the most notable in this regard, particularly Dinklage. While he may sing the least of the three main characters, watching the film find ways to combine his poetic musings with actual lyrics at least seemed like clever choices to do what was needed to make his contributions appropriate.
There’s only so much I can judge about music beyond whether or not I liked what I heard. I can recognize that not every performer is a natural singer. Still, I’m also a big fan of The National, so things more or less evened out.
Really, I admired Cyrano for being willing to go where it needed to tell its story. So much effort went into preserving the romance, but the film also made room for one of the best sword fighting scenes I’ve seen in a long time. It’s impressive, to say the least. But then you have the iconic balcony scene from the story as well, and the moment that could come across as silly feels fulfilled in all the right ways. Perhaps one needs to be in the right spirits to fully embrace such an impassioned story, but the weight of the love for this material on display came through just right as far as I am concerned.