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Cyrano Peter Dinklage film explores human need for connection

Cyrano Peter Dinklage film explores human need for connection
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A new film adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac highlights the "human need for connection", director Joe Wright says.

The first trailer for the Oscar-tipped Cyrano, which features Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage in the titular role, was released on Wednesday.

The film tells the story of a poet who struggles to reveal his true feelings to the woman he loves due to his perceived unattractive appearance.

Wright says he identified with the original French play from a young age.

"I was one of those kids who felt like they were odd and other and unworthy of love, so I always connected to the story," he tells BBC News. "It's about the human need for connection, and how we often fail to connect with other people."

Wright, who previously directed Atonement and Darkest Hour adds: "Perhaps this film can help to express what I believe to be true, which is that we are more similar than we are different, despite outward appearances."

What is Cyrano de Bergerac?

Written in 1897 by Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac is about a man born with a very large and ugly nose, which makes him feel as if he is unlovable.

Cyrano is a talented poet and an excellent swordsman who is secretly in love with a woman named Roxane, herself a lover of poetry.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. stars as Christian in Joe Wright’s CyranoImage source, Peter Mountain
Image caption, Kelvin Harrison Jr. stars as Christian, who Cyrano helps to impress Roxane with his poems

But Cyrano, conscious of his appearance, fears rejection and struggles to reveal his true feelings to her.

When a handsome army cadet called Christian arrives on the scene, Roxane begins to fall for him. But Christian is no good at writing poems.

So Cyrano steps in and effectively ghost-writes Christian's love letters and poems to Roxane, prompting her to fall in love with the young cadet instead.

The film explores several themes - love triangles, deceit, the power of language, a person's true inner value juxtaposed with outward appearance, and, as Wright puts it, "how we often fail to connect with other people through fear of being seen, somehow".

"The story reminds me of the importance of human connectivity, especially at a time when we were so starved of that during lockdowns," he says.

'A giant soul'

In the latest iteration of Cyrano, the lead character is reimagined so his insecurity is not over his facial appearance, but his height.

"Normally, Cyrano is played by a very handsome actor with a big rubber nose on his face," notes Wright.

"And although we may suspend our disbelief, we know that actor can, at the end of the day, take off his nose and go to the pub and be a handsome actor. Whereas with Pete, you know he is as he is. And he brings with his smaller stature a giant soul."

Joe Wright pictured in 2018
Image caption, Joe Wright, pictured in 2018, has previously directed Atonement, Darkest Hour and 2005's Pride and Prejudice

Dinklage, who has a form of dwarfism known as achondroplasia, has been widely praised for his performance by critics who saw an early screening of the film at the Telluride festival in September.

"Although Cyrano has been played by way too many actors to count over the years, Dinklage makes it so fresh, so alive, and so potent it feels like we are seeing Cyrano depicted for the very first time, wrote Deadline's Pete Hammond.

"Dinklage's diminutive stature serves the same purpose the character's oversize schnoz originally did, lending Cyrano an outsider quality that he must overcompensate for in personality," said Variety's Peter Debruge. "His Cyrano allows him to confront the insecurities that come with any physical difference more candidly than ever before," added IndieWire's David Ehrlich.

However, Next Best Picture's Matt Neglia said: "Cyrano is so unabashedly romantic that it certainly won't work for everyone... Dinklage is so intelligent, funny & deeply empathetic. He broke my heart. Costumes are a standout, though I took serious issue with the brightly lit, almost soap opera quality of the cinematography."

The film is adapted from a musical version of the famous story written and directed by Erica Schmidt, which played off-Broadway in 2018.

Schmidt, who has also written the film's screenplay, reimagined Cyrano as a dwarf and enlisted her husband, Dinklage, to play the leading role.

Peter Dinklage in CyranoImage source, Peter Mountain
Image caption, Game of Thrones star Dinklage has been tipped for an Oscar nomination

"The original Rostand play is quite an intellectual proposition," Wright points out. "It's very wordy, there are these long monologues about words, and plays on words. And what the songs do is they kind of stand in for those extended monologues and become a hopefully more accessible and emotional experience of those same ideas and themes."

He continues: "When I saw Peter play the role [on stage], I was really blown away by that expression of his otherness, just in him being Peter. And I thought that was a very exciting prospect. I think film's creative success is often designed by the right actor in the right role at the right moment."

Cyrano has gone through countless versions since it was first staged in Paris in 1897, with the titular role played to great acclaim by Benoît-Constant Coquelin.

Many other performers have taken on the titular role since, among them Sir Antony Sher, Robert Lindsay, Gerard Depardieu, and Kevin Kline, while José Ferrer won an Oscar for playing Cyrano in a 1950 film.

In 2019, James McAvoy donned a prosthetic nose to play Cyrano in a production staged at London's Playhouse Theatre.

Dinklage has been touted as a possible best actor nominee in the coming film awards season for his portrayal, but Wright says he tries to avoid such industry buzz.

"I try to drown it all out," he says. "I don't find it very healthy for my emotional stability, nor for my creative progress. I live in a farm in Somerset and I try not to read the trades or reviews or any of that stuff. The most important thing to me is that I get to keep making work."

Ahead of the trailer's launch, Wright says: "I'm really excited for people to see the film... and I hope it conveys a sense of human connection of love and beauty and a sense that I hope people find or have found their soulmate, and I hope they remember to tell them that they love them."

Cyrano is released in UK cinemas on 14 January 2022.

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