Cyrano (2021): Prepare to Cry

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I have a confession to make: my kink is unrequited love stories. I can’t get enough of them. The sadder and more tragic, the better. And the most achingly beautiful of all unrequited love stories is Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play, Cyrano de Bergerac. Nothing comes near it for sheer poetic, painful yearning. So, when I heard that there was going to be a reboot of Cyrano, and this one was going to star Peter Dinklage as the lovelorn namesake of the story, I was completely sold. Turns out that this is actually the film version of a musical adaptation written by Erica Schmidt, in which a number of the original actors from the stage musical are reprising their roles. It was directed by Joe Wright, who is well known for his historical flicks featuring Kiera Knightly, such as Pride & Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), and Anna Karenina (2012).

Engraving of the historical Cyrano.

The original play (and all the subsequent film adaptations) is loosely based on the life of 17th-century French nobleman, Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac. Cyrano is a brilliant warrior poet, the sort of character that has “leading man” written all over him, until it’s pointed out, cruelly and unambiguously, that his comically large nose makes him the target of every mean-spirited half-wit who thinks they can score points by making fun of him. This bullying, evident since he was a child, has crafted in Cyrano a finely honed wit, while his martial training and superior intellect has gotten him far in life as a celebrated duelist.

By all means, fuck around and find out. 

He also is hopelessly in love with a noblewoman, Roxane (the spelling differs between the original play and this film, fyi), who loves him only as a friend while yearning for the conventionally attractive Christian, a fellow soldier in Cyrano’s regiment. Christian’s limited intellect is not quite up to the task of wooing Roxane, so Cyrano offers to step in and be the words behind Christian’s handsome façade. Cyrano initially sees this as ideal for everyone involved, until his words work too well, and Roxane and Christian fall in love, and he realizes what hell he hath wrought on himself.

It is deliciously painful to watch unfold.

The difference in this Cyrano adaptation is obvious right from the start, but the themes stay true to the original source material. Instead of a big nose, Cyrano is a little person. Peter Dinklage, while undeniably more conventionally attractive than Cyrano ought to be, nonetheless is a great choice to subtly underscore the original themes of the play. His size is a bigger problem than a large nose, and it drives home a lot of presumptions about masculinity that persist even today. While Dinklage’s Cyrano is clearly physically up to the task of besting anyone in a duel who dares cross him, he is still seen as a freak of nature, or worse, a comical parody of what a virile man should look like and therefore he is dismissed out of hand as a viable suitor to his beloved Roxanne (Haley Bennett). This Cyrano has far more to overcome with the body he was born with than just a comically large nose. I am a devoted fan of Gérard Depardieu‘s Cyrano (my generation’s definitive Cyrano, natch), but Depardieu still comes across as too conventionally attractive. The big nose is just a conceit, not a physical handicap. With Dinklage in the title role, the character’s physical hurdles become obvious, hard to overlook, and you (almost) understand why Roxanne couldn’t get past her own prejudices to see Cyrano for the man who truly loved her until it was too late.

I really wish I could go into more detail about the film, but it doesn’t come out until December 31, 2021, in the U.S., so all we have to go on so far is the trailer:

A few things stand out about the costumes in the trailer, mainly that they appear to be more 18th century than the time period the play is originally set in, the 17th century. They were designed by Massimo Cantini Parrini, who best known to English-speaking audiences for his work on Tale of Tales (2015) and Ophelia (2018).

The sweetly tender friendship between Roxanne and Cyrano is just plain heart-breaking. I’ve been there, man. I’ve been there.

 

Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays the heartthrob Christian, who is nowhere near up to the task of wooing fair Roxanne without major help from Cyrano.

 

This film looks as if it will be very beautiful to watch. The scenes in the trailer are filled with emotion.

 

The set design is incredible.

 

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, ROXANNE??? WHY CAN’T YOU SEE THAT THIS MAN IS THE ONE YOU LOVE???

 

Me, watching Roxanne be a dipshit over and over and over until the last possible second, and you know what? IMMA WATCH IT AGAIN.

 

 

Do you love having your heart broken over and over? Tell us about it in the comments!

35 Responses

  1. NuitsdeYoung

    There was a production some years ago based on translation by Edwin Morgan (gay Glaswegian poet) which subtly took hints from the fact that the historical Cyrano seems to have been gay. Adds another interesting layer if one considers that perhaps he’s partly motivated also by unrequited love for Christian.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      It’s clear that Cyrano comes to feel as deeply for Christian as for Roxane. He is definitely reluctant to break the boy’s heart by taking his girl. Christian on the other hand isn’t about to hang on to the girl Cyrano also loves, especially as he won her by a lie. It’s a bromance as well as a romance. In a way Roxane is the odd woman out.

      Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Wow–now that’s a fascinating plot twist. The music on the trailer sounds rather awful, but I trust Dinklage to overcome any schmaltz in the production.

      Reply
      • Susan Pola Staples

        Dinklage as Cyrano, can’t wait. I loved him in GOT and he projects intelligent, wit and integrity. Not to mention, he’s hot.

        Reply
  2. Jillian

    It looks fantastic, but after a major event in my life, I can’t watch tragedies anymore. That being said, I look forward to your review of the movie.

    Reply
  3. Frances Germeshausen

    I think I can convince my musical-phobic husband to watch because of the presence of Dinklage, who you, I and the doorpost know will be stunningly heartbreaking in this. And, it looks so pretty. Tissues at the ready!

    Reply
  4. Lisa Joseph

    If you love the Cyrano story and are not afraid to read your movies, I submit for your consideration “Aru Kengo no Shogai” (which is alternately either “Life of an Accomplished Swordsman” or “Samurai Saga”). Transplanting the story to 16th c. Japan, Hiroshi Inagaki directs Toshiro Mifune, Yoko Tsukasa and Akira Takirada – and I cry at the end every time.

    I even did a costuming blogpost about it. https://gurdymonkey.dreamwidth.org/969473.html

    Available online to stream here. https://archive.org/details/samurai-saga-1959

    Reply
  5. Gray

    There’s an excellent film called “Day After the Fair” which is based on a Thomas Hardy short story “On the Western Circuit” that is a Cyrano story written before Cyrano. The film had great early 1890s costumes. It is hard to find. In it a lady writes love letters for her illiterate maid and the trouble starts as the circuit judge falls in love with the letter writer, and the maid is pregnant with his child.

    Reply
  6. Sharon in Scotland

    I don’t entertain the idea of Gerad Depardieu now, but I remember weeping watching him deliver the final speech as he is dying and Roxanne finally knows it was always him, always him. He will forever, for me, be Cyrano

    Reply
    • Damnitz

      I understand your problems with Depardieu. Jean Rochefort was such a much better actor and lived in 1990… But it’s a masterpiece in hiw own way with superb pictures and actors. I loved even the fighting before V.Perez dead.

      Reply
  7. LadySlippers

    When I watched the trailer, I put this movie on my “must see” list.

    I’ve always struggled with Cyrano (story and movies) because it shows how shallow people are and how we cannot overlook physical looks in relationships, but can easily over look abusive actions. I’ve also not been on board with the whole ‘big nose’ thing as a real barrier between people (big noses are usually a sly reference to Jews). But a small person? That seems much more believable. And exploring deeper contexts of masculinity? Sign me up.

    Joe Wright’s movies are really developing a certain colour palette/signature as this looks visually a lot like Anna Karenina.

    Reply
  8. Coco

    A frequent problem in casting ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ is that in every version I can think of whoever plays Roxane is significantly younger than Cyrano. This makes no sense with the text, considering they knew each other as children, and adds to the creepiness of Cyrano’s manipulation of Roxane’s feelings. I’m interested in seeing this new film version, but would like to see a performance or adaptation where they seem to have been born in the same decade.

    Reply
  9. Roxana

    Jose Ferrer will always be my Cyrano. But this sounds like an interesting version. Peter Dinklage deserves starring vehicles, obviously. But I hope they don’t make Christian a total dim bulb because he’s not. He’s quite clever about how he picks a fight with Cyrano. His problem is his no good at the kind of high flown sentiment Roxane demands. In justice to the girl it’s the fact Cyrano plays big brother to her not the nose that makes her overlook him as a romantic prospect. If he’d used some of that eloquence on her in his own person she might have seen him differently. Christian also has the good sense to realize the only way any of them can be genuinely happy is to come clean and let Roxane make up her mind between them with no more lies and obfuscatuons. I see why Cyrano lies to the dying Christian that Roxane chose him. I can see why he doesn’t want to disillusion her with Christian. What I have trouble forgiving is he never tried to get her love him but lets her grieve alone for years over her one and only true love. Frankly it makes me believe that yearning suits Cyrano better than fulfillment.

    Reply
    • A

      Me too – just about my most-hated trope in all literature and drama is where the hero (and sometimes in a conspiracy with all the other good guys) decide not to tell the heroine Stuff She Really Needs and is Entitled to Know, because it would upset her, or might frighten her, or just they have decided to make a big chivalrous thing about Keeping a Secret. But in Cyrano’s case, he isn’t even consistent in that, but Tells All as he’s dying, just to make sure she knows she’s wasted fifteen years of her life mourning the wrong man. Grrrr! I’d drop a big baulk of timber on that man’s head, too.

      But yes, Peter Dinklage as Cyrano? I’m totally up for that.

      Reply
  10. Michael McQuown

    I remember the Ferrer film very fondly. I’ve seen only bits of the Depardieu, but — I have also seen the Toshiro Mifune version. What most people don’t know is that Cyrano was perhaps the world’s first science-fantasist, having written A Comic History of Travels to the Empire of the Sun/ Moon.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      The Ferrer film has a hysterical scene with Cyrano telling his story of journeying to the moon to delay the nobleman after Roxane. That girl’s got serious suitor problems. One that won’t spit it out. One that can’t say it the way she wants to hear it. And a powerful nobleman who won’t take no for an answer.

      Reply
  11. Becky Nankivell

    Jose Ferrer for me, because of the Hooker translation; the translation used for the Depardieu version was disappointing.

    I don’t mind adaptations, Steve Martin’s “Roxanne” was fun.

    The thought of a musical makes me nervous, but if they manage the music of the language, it might be ok… I will give it a chance. :-)

    Reply
  12. DesertRose

    I read the play in high school, but I never watched the Depardieu version because that actor annoys me. Jose Ferrer is my benchmark for Cyrano, but I have yet to see Peter Dinklage turn in a bad performance. so to me, this version looks extremely promising. Definitely waiting with bated breath to see more than the trailer.

    Reply
  13. Fran in NYC

    Derek Jacobi played Cyrano at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Broadway. Sinead Cusack was Roxanne. He was fantastic in it. I wonder if there is any film of it?

    Reply
  14. MsNomi

    I enjoyed the Depardieu. Never saw the Ferrer. The Martin was fun. I remember seeing one a million years ago on TV with Peter Donat as Cyrano and Marc Singer as Christian. Donat was good. Singer sucked. Ever since Peter Dinklage’s intro in The Station Agent, I watch everything and anything he is in. I would even watch him read the phone book! (Sorry, that’s an old folks joke).

    Reply
    • Frances Germeshausen

      You saw the American Conservatory Theater version, which I was able to see live something like 3-4 times (“student rush” tickets – I was in high school in the 70s). Peter Donat was wonderful. Maybe that’s where I got in the habit of always sobbing at live theater?

      Reply
  15. Saraquill

    Anyone else here familiar with the “Wishbone” version? Wishbone always played the lead or other major character in literary reenactments. For Cyrano, a literal Jack Russell terrier was playing the part of a human with the “face of a dog.”

    Reply
    • The Scrivener

      I loved the Wishbone version! Even though it was faintly ridiculous, it was a great adaptation.

      I tapped out of the trailer when the Emotional Music started; I have been unimpressed with Joe Wright’s work to date, but at least he hasn’t cast Keira Knightley as Roxane. (Maybe she can’t sing?)

      Peter Dinklage is great in everything I’ve seen him in, and he can do both comedy (Death at a Funeral) and epic adventure (GOT) really well. And I think this will also force audiences to confront their own prejudices, in a way that a big-nosed Cyrano doesn’t so much.

      Has anyone done a Cyrano from Roxane’s POV?

      Reply
  16. Gail

    I saw Kevin Kline as Cyrano, on Broadway, a few years ago … Sigh.
    Except at the pivotal end scene, the teenage girl next to me had her cell light up w a text. I was pretty pissed at that.

    Reply
  17. svilla8874

    I saw the Peter Donat version at ACT as well. He was wonderful. Just before the beginning of Covid, we saw a version of Cyrano with James McAvoy that was just breathtaking. Definitely not historical, but a contemporary telling using rap battles to tell the story. It took me a while to get in, but OMG, McAvoy was just riveting. The rest of the cast was particularly good, and I’ve been looking for that version on the National Theatre Live website so I can see it again. I was very familiar with the original play and this telling took me a bit to understand what they were doing, but it was really worthwhile. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/dec/09/cyrano-de-bergerac-review-james-mcavoy-playhouse-london-martin-crimp-rostand-nose-wooing

    Reply
  18. Cathy L Sutliff

    I certainly hope they keep the ending true to the play. If they ruin it like Hollywood ruined Little Shop of Horrors by changing the ending to an up-beat let’s all get married schmaltz that the producers think viewers want then we all will be sorely disappointed and it will be once again a waste of film.

    Reply
  19. LouisD

    The images look gorgeous. Bus as a french man, it makes me cringe to see another french classic massacred by Hollywood, after Les misérables. The actors look sooo anglo saxon to me, it is painful (as if Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert play in a Jane Austen Movie)

    Reply
  20. Damnitz

    I don’t know why on earth every major piece for the theater needs a version as a musical. However maybe it’s better to make a musical then to go in challenge with the masterpiece from 1990. Some critics in Germany are confused and write that the new movie would be in the 17th century although it’s in the 18th century instead. Maybe another trick to not compare both films. I asked myself if there were such old cadets during the 18th century or if that aspect is just “made up” to fit somehow into the original story from the 19th century work by Rostand.

    Reply

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