Little did he know that when he made his 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, Joe Wright would be cementing his place in my bubble bath cinema of joy. Having rewatched his version countless times from the warm, sudsy confines of someone else’s bathtub, I feel the same sense of calm and contentment each time that only a two-hour massage or beta blockers bring. With his new film Cyrano (an adaptation of the play by Edmond Rostand, in turn an adaptation of the life of a real verbose Schnoz) I was hoping for another title to add to the playbill. While it doesn’t offer the longevity of the aforementioned comfort movie (nor of its adapted predecessors), Cyrano is a competent production boosted by the performances of its two leads.
Our nasally well-endowed hero is played this time by the standard-nosed Peter Dinklage, in a bid both to update the story and save on the cost of prosthetics. He is a poet, duelist and bad-acting intolerant theatre fan, and as such his introduction in the story sees him berating a stage actor into abandoning his performance. Present at this same production are his nemesis Comte de Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn), the woman they both love, Roxanne (Hayley Bennett) and her very new crush, Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) This is a love square with inevitably bad outcomes for all involved, and an opportunity to do something new with the source material.
Rostand’s original play has had countless treatments from 1900 until present, of which I’d only seen two: Fred Schepisi’s Roxanne and Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Cyrano de Bergerac (and both are marvellous). Steve Martin’s C. D. Bales in the former is still my favourite portrayal of the lovestruck lyricist, and the most deserving of the title of Wordsmith. Gerard Depardieau’s performance in the latter pierces the core of insecurity and the tragedy of (presumed) unrequited love, and watching it in high school sent my 16 year-old imagination into overdrive (the Frenchman is also far too handsome for a false nose to detract from). You can never have too much of a good thing, so I jumped at the chance to see a new adaptation without doing any research or trailer-watching.
Going into Cyrano blind (both in the sense that I didn’t watch the trailer and I forgot to bring my glasses to the screening), I was completely surprised that this film is a musical. Written by Erica Schmidt (Dinklage’s wife) for her 2018 stage musical and adapted for the screen, we have a film based on a musical, based on a play, based on a person. Dinklage reprises his role from that production, as do The National brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner for the soundtrack. It’s a pity, then, that most of the songs are somewhat forgettable and don’t add a lot to the experience. I must exclude one track from this statement; Glen Hansard, Sam Amidon and Scott Folan’s very final words in “Wherever I Fall” provide most of the emotional resonance to the story. Their request that the messenger for their loved ones’ letters “tell ‘em not to cry at all” fell on deaf ears and I did not obey at all, weeping shamefully into my swampy mask until the lights came on.
While the musical numbers may not have tickled me, the performances of the two leads most certainly did. Wright’s Cyrano boasts the best Roxanne put to film (sorry Daryl Hannah) in the exquisite Hayley Bennett, who steals the show from everyone (including Dinklage). Her singing is strong, her movements are lyrical and romantic, and her dedication in one scene to orgasmically tracing her own body with letters (supposedly written by beautiful dumb dumb, Christian) is something to behold. Wright served as Executive Producer on Swallow, a film wherein Bennett plays a woman who develops pica (and made me rather uncomfortable in the best way). I assume this is where he met his Roxanne as a quick stalk reveals that Bennett and Wright are a couple, marking the fifth side in a now-love pentagon. The way the camera frames her voluptuous figure and her delicate face make the infatuation obvious and it really adds to how we perceive her character.
Peter Dinklage is engaging as always, particularly in his scenes with Bennett. He presents as less self-conscious than the other iterations and it creates a more exciting sexual tension between Cyrano and Roxanne. If it feels like the part was written for him, it’s because it was (by someone who knows him better than anyone). But to quote Roxanne in her horniest song of the film, “I need more”. It often feels like this Cyrano can walk the walk but when it comes to talking, he overestimates his own wit. As someone with two thirds of an abandoned Linguistics degree under her belt, I was hoping for a 2022 update on Steve Martin’s alphabetised cavalcade of self-deprecation. What we get instead is a B-side of Tyrion Lannister tracks that didn’t quite make the cut in Westeros and don’t allow Dinklage to do as much as he could.
Despite my yearning for an extended A Bit of Fry & Laurie bit in a period piece, I’m mostly satisfied by Cyrano and he can keep his Most Eloquent trophy….for now.
While this new adaptation is a little uneven in parts and doesn’t benefit greatly from the musical additions, it’s still a gorgeous production and a wonderful display of its two leads’ talents. I feel about Cyrano the way I do about the recent Emma – not my favourite rendition, but it’s beautiful, spirited and a perfectly good candidate for Bathtub Cinema Club. 7/10.
Cyrano is in cinemas now and it’s pronounced sɪrənoʊ (in case you’re that woman who went in before me and you don’t want to embarrass yourself again).