Was it urgent that the world got another Cyrano de Bergerac adaptation? Directed by Joe Wright and fronted by Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage, this version of the 19th-century play is a curiously old-fashioned musical to arrive in 2022. And, though Dinklage is superb in the role, the whole thing feels strangely unnecessary.
Cleaving pretty close to the original, Cyrano is the story of how man of words Cyrano de Bergerac helps fellow soldier Christian woo Roxanne, the woman they both love, by writing love letters for him. In scenes that are sometimes comic but more often tragic, the pretence becomes difficult to maintain; Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) finds himself increasingly frustrated at his ineloquent manner, and Cyrano falls more and more deeply for Roxanne (Haley Bennett), a woman who doesn’t realise he loves her.
The film’s origins in theatre are evident, and Wright embraces them. Dinklage played the role in New York when his wife Erica Schmidt first wrote the play (she also wrote the screenplay), and perhaps not enough care has been taken to ensure that the film feels like a distinct entity. Movie musicals can have this problem, especially if the writer doesn’t change. It isn’t easy to solve. Though the Cats film had countless other problems – the line “so first your memory I’ll jog/and say: ‘a cat is not a dog’“, for example – one of its flaws was that it didn’t feel like a film. What it felt like, and what Cyrano feels like, is the recording of a stage show.
In the case of a film like Mamma Mia, this problem is surmountable with enough tongue in enough cheek. Cyrano, however, is played straight, and feels bereft of the wink that Dinklage brought to the inescapable Tyrion Lannister. Dinklage’s casting is interesting in that it seems to invite a parallel between Cyrano de Bergerac’s off-putting nose and Dinklage’s height. He is not a traditional romantic lead, and has to escape the ‘freak’ label that has convinced him he is unworthy of Roxanne’s love.
But the actor’s casting is interesting for another reason. He basically doesn’t sing. While the other actors seem to have musical training or experience, Dinklage chooses to deliver his songs in something close to his speaking voice. His star power would have helped green-light the film but he is oddly out of place here. His character’s vocal problems aren’t there for any comic purpose, Dinklage seems to have simply decided he can’t reach the high notes.
This doesn’t mean he isn’t pleasant to listen to. And the film’s flaws don’t prevent it from boasting a stirring soundtrack – written by The National brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner, with lyrical help from frontman Matt Berninger and Carin Besser. ‘Wherever I Fall’, although it is almost comically out of place, is moving. Go and find it on Spotify. When its indulgent but spine-tingling six minutes are over, Cyrano returns to being even more of a confusing mix because of its presence. It’s a well-intentioned film with some good songs which, despite having more than two hours to come together, doesn’t quite do so.
- Director: Joe Wright
- Starring: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr.
- Release date: January 14