What compelling force motivated a new telling of a tale as old as time?
A French writer and a duelist in the 17th century, Cyrano de Bergerac’s life served as inspiration for Edmond Rostand’s stage play, first mounted in Paris in 1897, quickly followed by touring productions that encircled the globe. Jose Ferrer, who’d gained acclaim for his portrayal on Broadway, won an Academy Award for his performance in the 1950 film version, the first English-language adaptation for the big screen.
In 1987, Steve Martin wrote and starred in a light comic adaptation, Roxanne, directed by Fred Schepisi. I saw it twice in Manhattan movie theaters, and have seen it several times since then. It remains one of my favorite movies.
In 2019, Erica Schmidt’s musical adaptation premiered, starring Peter Dinklage in the title role. Instead of a big nose, it’s his small size that makes him feel inadequate and, he believes, prevents him from ever deserving the love of any woman, including his beautiful and distant cousin Roxanne.
Stymied by self-doubt in his yearning for true love, Cyrano nonetheless demonstrates poetic flair as a wordsmith and fierce skills as a swordsman, which makes him a tremendously valuable asset. When Roxanne confesses to him that she has fallen in love with the handsome young Christian, a budding swordsman with great potential but no facility at all with words, Cyrano devotes himself to making Roxanne happy by making Christian appear to be as deft with words and expressions of love as he is in the deadly art of swordplay.
Director Joe Wright excels at lush adaptations, such as Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Anna Karenina (2012), though he has not fared as well with modern-day settings, as seen in the woeful The Soloist (2009) and The Woman in the Window (2021). In his hands, Cyrano is a handsomely mounted stage play that has been translated to the big screen with suitable panache, colorful costumes, and an eye on bringing historical fictions to life from a modern perspective.
Thus, Haley Bennett is made to look less attractive as Roxanne than she is in real life; it’s easy to believe her to be an insecure, somewhat desperate woman who believes she has found true love on first sight. She’s so much in love with her idea of who she believes Christian to be, thanks in part to the well-intended deception engineered by Cyrano, that she is eager to pass up the riches proffered by De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn), whose domineering personality is offset by his period-accurate facial makeup and costuming, which makes him look like a dandy.
He is anything but a dandy, though, and Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is anything but a simpleton, even though he appears to be a daft sort of fellow. Beneath that lies a strong and forceful personality that he has mostly kept hidden, until he feels ready to unleash the power within.
As Cyrano, Peter Dinklage is dynamic, stirring, a force of nature. He invests the character with subtle shades of grief and understanding. He knows his strengths and plays to them. He also knows his weaknesses, and always endeavors to cover them up and keep them from discovery.
His fatal flaw may be his kindness, which gives Cyrano a bittersweet tang.
The film opens only in movie theaters on Friday, February 25, via MGM Studios through United Artists Releasing. Visit the official site for locations and showtimes.