BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Family affair as Cyrano sets up camp on a volcano

BAZ BAMIGBOYE: It’s a family affair as Cyrano sets up camp on a volcano

Filming on the slopes of Mount Etna has given an extra spark to one of literature’s famous heroines. Hollywood star Haley Bennett has put a modern spin on Roxanne — the noblewoman at the centre of one of the most enduring tragic love stories of all time.

‘She’s not in the shadow of a man any more,’ the actress declared.

Bennett, 33, shares the screen in the gobsmackingly gorgeous film Cyrano, based on Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac, with Peter Dinklage as the title character who’s secretly in love with Roxanne, but expresses that love through the letters and poems that he writes.

However, those billets-doux are read to her by Christian, Cyrano’s handsome love rival, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.

‘The play was written over 120 years ago, by a man,’ Bennett noted, adding that with the exception of Daryl Hannah, who played her in the film Roxanne, the character has ‘always felt a bit precious’. ‘I wanted to flip that,’ she said. ‘I wanted her to be a bit messy.’

Hollywood star Haley Bennett has put a modern spin on Roxanne — the noblewoman at the centre of one of the most enduring tragic love stories of all time

Dinklage, who starred in Game Of Thrones, agreed. ‘Roxanne seemed always to be behind glass, seen through the men’s point of view’.

Several years ago, his wife, the playwright Erica Schmidt, re-examined Rostand’s drama in a stage production that starred both Dinklage and Bennett.

Bennett’s partner, the film director Joe Wright, saw the show at a small theatre in Connecticut. Soon, he and Schmidt were collaborating on a screenplay: one that ‘put Roxanne in the foreground’.

Bennett added another layer to the tale during filming, which took place in Sicily at the height of the Covid pandemic in the summer of 2020. She wondered: ‘What if Roxanne knew the truth, and wasn’t the one being fooled?’

In any case, her Roxanne insists that she’s ‘no one’s pet, no one’s wife and no one’s woman’.

Remember, this is a tale set during a period when women didn’t ‘have ownership over their own lives’, as Bennett put it. ‘They weren’t encouraged to read or to be intellectual.’

Bennett, 33, shares the screen in the gobsmackingly gorgeous film Cyrano, based on Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac, with Peter Dinklage as the title character

Wright said making the film in the bleak period of the first wave of the pandemic felt like ‘an act of defiance’.

The director had been warned that he had just a five per cent chance of getting Cyrano — a musical, with songs by The National — financed. Eric Fellner, at Working Title, had to join forces with MGM to get the film made. It was one of the first productions to shoot after Covid turned the world upside down. And it was explosive, literally and metaphorically. ‘Yes, we were shooting on a volcano that was erupting,’ Dinklage said drily, of filming near Mount Etna.

‘As most people drive in the opposite direction of an active volcano, we drove towards it, every morning. As soon as we wrapped, she really erupted. We were gone.’

Director Wright charged his closest collaborators, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey and production designer Sarah Greenwood to create ‘a fantasy of a period’, not period authenticity.

Because of health protocols — this was long before vaccines — hundreds of cast and crew members moved to the island and weren’t able to leave until filming was complete, two months later. That’s why, Wright said, you might spot the same extras and background artists playing aristocrats, shopkeepers and soldiers. ‘We could use the same people over and over again, because they were part of our Covid bubble.

‘It was very much a kind of back to our roots, family affair,’ he added. All the actors took their families, including Virginia, the director’s three-year-old daughter with Bennett; and Dinklage and Schmidt’s two children. ‘They were all Covid tested, as part of the bubble. So I said: get them in the film as well.’ Wright’s parents, the puppeteers Lyndie and John Wright used to run the Little Angel Theatre in Islington (once upon a time I lived around the corner from it). His mother, 84, was in Sicily, too; and created the sheep puppets used in a stage sequence.

Bennett added another layer to the tale during filming, which took place in Sicily at the height of the Covid pandemic in the summer of 2020. She wondered: ‘What if Roxanne knew the truth, and wasn’t the one being fooled?’

And even though Wright’s father died 30 years ago, the filmmaker used marionettes his dad had created back in 1948.

His father was born in 1906. ‘My dad was 65 when I was born,’ he told me. ‘He was a distant figure — a wonderful father, but not very emotionally present, shall we say. So I was really brought up by my mum and my sister [the eminent puppeteer Sarah Wright].’

He said he always tries to bring an element of his mum and sibling to his films. For instance, Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet in 2005s Pride & Prejudice ‘was definitely my sister’.

I tell him that Cyrano is infused with the same passion ingrained in several of his best films — Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, The Darkest Hour — a quality I found distinctly lacking in The Woman In The Window, a thriller he made featuring Amy Adams, Gary Oldman and Julianne Moore, that was dumped on to Netflix last year.

He agreed that The Woman In The Window didn’t work ‘because I think it was coming from a place of anger, instead of love’.

When I asked what had angered him, he responded that he’d been forced by producers to do a lot of reshooting and recutting. ‘I was no longer the author of the film,’ he said. ‘But Cyrano was made with love.’ And on that, we bumped elbows.

Cyrano opens in cinemas here on February 25.

Benedict bags a Sugary treat 

Director Wes Anderson is beguiled by the fantasy tales of Roald Dahl.

The filmmaker won Oscar and Bafta nominations 13 years ago for his animated film version of Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, which featured the vocal talents of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and members of his regular acting troupe — Bill Murray, Willem Defoe, Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody.

Now, another Dahl tale of the unexpected has caught Anderson’s eye. He will direct The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar, a nest of yarns about an idle playboy gambler who steals a book that describes how the power to see without sight can be attained, using special yoga training that concentrates the conscious mind. The central character, Henry Sugar, will be played by Benedict Cumberbatch, currently to be seen on screen in three films: blockbuster hit Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain with Claire Foy; and Jane Campion’s The Power Of The Dog, a leading awards season contender that’s likely to bag Cumberbatch a second best-actor Oscar nomination.

Sugar uses his new power to win at cards at top casinos around the world. Related storylines explore the origin of the amazing abnormality, and what he does with the fortune he acquires with his winning hands.

Anderson will shoot the Netflix production in and around London.


The central character, Henry Sugar, will be played by Benedict Cumberbatch (left), currently to be seen on screen in three films: blockbuster hit Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain with Claire Foy; and Jane Campion’s The Power Of The Dog. Pictured right: Wes Anderson

Hugely popular hit film Spider-Man: No Way Home has launched a campaign for the Best Picture Oscar.

The movie has made more than £1 billion globally. I say bring it on. There are great films in the mix this year, but they haven’t yet taken off at the cinema box office. Others have played strongly on Netflix, Amazon and AppleTV+. The webbed one would jolly up the awards season discourse, even though it has little to no chance of winning. Strangely enough, though, as I wrote that line my spider senses started tingling.

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