Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is perhaps one of the best plays ever written. It rivals the likes of Shakespeare’s most popular tales. Like many plays, it has been revisited, retold, and reimagined over the years—with the Gérard Depardieu-led movie reigning supreme before Joe Wright’s Cyrano arrived to overshadow every adaptation that came before.
I feel uniquely suited to review this film, as Cyrano has been one of my favorite plays since middle school, and in college, I staged and directed an abridged version of the play. I know the text inside and out, having gone through every line of the play with painstaking detail to ascribe emotion to every word spoken. Needless to say, I had many reservations going into Cyrano and Joe Wright proved once again that he is beyond capable of adapting beloved texts and breathing new life into them.
There are a few changes that screenwriter Erica Schmidt chose to make and honestly, as a Cyrano purist, they work to further the story along in a refreshingly new way. First and foremost, rather than envisioning a man with an abnormally large nose, she envisioned her husband Peter Dinklage for the role of the dashing poet Cyrano de Bergerac. Rather than Cyrano and Roxanne being cousins, Cyrano opts to see them as childhood friends. Cyrano’s demise is also altered—yes, I’m spoiling a 124-year-old play—which allows him to die from a war injury, rather than a head wound caused by a log falling from a window. Instead of an ignoble ending, Cyrano dies from noble means. And finally, the script has been modernized in a few areas, particularly where singing is involved.
Very little else has been altered from the story that Rostand penned in the 1890s, it is still the story of a man, Cyrano (Peter Dinklage), who is in love with a girl, Roxanne (Haley Bennett), but his appearance and cowardice keep him from acting on that love. Instead, he conceived a plan to be the voice of the letters that Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) uses to woo Roxanne’s hand in marriage. Just as Christian and Roxanne’s love is allowed to take flight, a war steals both Cyrano and Christian away, though Cyrano continues writing back to Roxanne under the guise of being Christian’s words. It’s all very tragic.
If I had to describe Cyrano with a single word, it would be “yearning.” Wright’s directorial choices expertly convey how this complex emotion manifests for each character, while the cast pulls at the audience’s heartstrings with both their physical and vocal performance. Dinklage proves, yet again, what a commanding presence he has on the screen and how he has the talent, charm, and skill to be a leading man. While he may not be a traditional singer, his singing is part of what makes his rendition of Cyrano so perfect. There’s so much beauty in the imperfection, that you fall in love with him for the words that he sings. He offers passion, vulnerability, and longing with every lyric that slips past his lips.
Perhaps the most powerful scene in the whole of Cyrano is the battle. I have never been so moved by a depiction of war as I was by the scenes crafted by Wright. As Christian and Cyrano march off to war, the tonal shift it brings with it is bleak, grey, and hopelessness. It’s really something quite special, as is the depressing song that the soldiers sing as they reflect on their impending deaths.
With music by Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner of The National fame, Cyrano is well-rounded on every front. When I first sat down to watch the film, I actually didn’t realize it was a musical, which I’m not ashamed to admit. I try not to consume every trailer before watching films, especially when trailers tend to give a lot away. Needless to say, when the first song started I instantly recognized the iconic sound of the Dessner brothers, mostly because I’ve religiously been listening to Taylor Swift’s folklore and evermore. Few movies have made me religiously check Spotify for the soundtrack to drop, yet Cyrano has. I would be remiss not to mention the lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser, which lend so much to the story being told.
There are a few other notable contributions to this film, including Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography, the set decorations, and the costumes by Massimo Cantini Parrini. The costumes in particular were exceptionally designed. Not only were they historically accurate, but they elevated every scene with the color choices and shapes created. Joe Wright pulled together the perfect team of creatives to honor Edmond Rostand’s beloved work.
The final scene of the film deeply and profoundly impacted me, despite my intimate knowledge about what was about to occur. Dinklage and Bennett were a powerful duo and the revelations they unfurl in those final moments were so perfectly handled. Cyrano is, by far, the best adaptation of Rostand’s play, and one I hope that it will be used to inform future generations of this tale. It’s romantic, sumptuous, and achingly tragic.
Cyrano arrives in theaters on January 21, 2022.