Adapted from the 2019 stage musical of the same name, itself based on the 1897 Edmond Rostand play, 2022’s Cyrano is a tale of self-sacrifice in the name of love. Directed by Joe Wright with a screenplay written by Erica Schmidt (who wrote the stage version the film is based on), Cyrano stars Peter Dinklage as Cyrano de Bergerac, opposite Haley Bennett as his love Roxanne.
A soldier and prolific poet living in 1640s France, Cyrano de Bergerac pines for the love of his oldest friend, the divine Roxanne. Given his station and “affliction” of dwarfism, Cyrano resigns himself to merely admiring her from afar, believing that someone as beautiful as her could never love someone who looks like him. When Roxanne confesses that she has fallen in love with a fellow soldier, Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), Cyrano decides to use his gift of poetry and his affection for Roxanne to bring her and Christian together.
The cast of Cyrano is superbly chosen. Dinklage and Bennett, who both reprised their roles from Schmidt’s stage production, are so at home in their character’s skins and it shows. Dinklage, whose career has no doubt been about defying expectations, fills so much space when he is on screen; he is utterly captivating as Cyrano, so beautifully poignant in his words, his movement, and his expressions. The way he brings the character to life feels almost otherworldly and each frame that he’s not in feels just a little… empty. It’s not hard to imagine that, had the film not been about his character, he would have still managed to shine the brightest amongst the cast anyway.
Bennett, similarly, is a real vision. Despite living on the edge of poverty, Roxanne has an air of grandeur about her that Bennett expertly exudes, floating through each scene as though it’s not her that moves but the ground beneath her. It’s no wonder that she is the subject of affection for so many men when she seems so sweet, lively, and uncomplicated.
When Dinklage and Bennett share the screen, the chemistry is incredible. Their dialogue has a seamless flow, almost as if it wasn’t scripted at all. When Bennett and Dinklage trade lines it feels so natural and authentic that to listen to them almost feels intrusive, like stumbling into a private conversation. It contrasts perfectly with the dialogue between Roxanne and her crush Christian, who without Cyrano’s helpful prose is reduced to a bumbling fool in her presence.
Speaking of Christian, actor Kelvin Harrison Jr., who is best known for his role in the psychological horror It Comes at Night, is a sublime romantic co-lead. Harrison Jr. is very obviously handsome, but Christian de Neuvillette’s most appealing and endearing qualities are largely his passion and goofiness. Despite not having the words to express himself romantically, the mere mention of Roxanne makes Christian’s eyes fill with stars. Harrison Jr.’s expressive physicality mirrors Bennett’s really well and watching him play against Dinklage is delightful.
A core element that sets this adaptation apart from others is, of course, that it’s a musical. In a similar vein to Damien Chazelle’s 2016 movie-musical La La Land, Cyrano is not explicitly made up of trained singers. Though Bennett and Harrison Jr. do have some vocal training, Bennett notably from to her debut role in 2007’s Music and Lyrics, Dinklage himself has stated that he does not. However, this lack of training in no way hinders his performance. Where some actors may choose to lip-sync over a guide track, Dinklage performs all his songs himself to the absolute best of his abilities and his deep, raspy baritone is incredibly soulful, capable of filling every ounce of the air in the room.
Without question, Cyrano is a gorgeously extravagant production. Wright, who is perhaps best known for his period pieces like Pride & Prejudice and Anna Karenina, has a keen understanding of how to transport viewers to bygone eras. With assistance from his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, the visuals that Wright was able to bring to life for Cyrano are truly stunning – from Cyrano’s duel at the theatre, the black mountain slopes of the warfront, the dancers reflected on the carriage windows in Roxanne’s opening number ‘Someone to Say’, and the bird’s-eye view shot of the soldier’s dancing at the barracks during Christian’s reprise, every moment is so vivid and expertly crafted.
There’s so much that can, and should, be said about how good Cyrano is. This story, this tragically beautiful story, was clearly made with so much love and care from everyone involved. You will laugh a little, you may even shed a tear or two, and you will definitely leave the cinema singing its praises.