Captain Corelli's Mandolin (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner04/05/2001

Three stars out of Five
Running time: 130 mins

Directed by John ‘Shakespeare In Love’ Madden, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is something of a mixed bag – gorgeous to look at and well-played, it’s definitely watchable yet strangely uninvolving.

When Louis de Bernieres’ novel first came out, it was a publishing phenomenon – one of those books that, suddenly, on every train, tube or bus, everyone’s reading a copy. Thus, as with Bridget Jones’s Diary, a film adaptation was inevitable. As such, there will undoubtedly be cries that ‘It’s not as good as the book’ or ‘They cut out all the best stuff’.

However, while it’s true that many changes have been made (basically, the film is stripped of some of the more political elements, barely hints at the homosexual subplot that was a key part of the book and changes the –admittedly unpopular- ending), it can also be argued that they’ve made the best possible film from such difficult source material.

The basic plot remains the same. On the beautiful Greek island of Cephallonia, Pelagia (Penelope Cruz), the daughter of the local doctor Iannis (John Hurt) becomes engaged to boyish fisherman Mandras (Christian Bale). It’s 1941 and initially the ongoing war seems far away from Cephallonia, until Mandras signs up to go and fight the Italian army.

Meanwhile, a group of Italian soldiers descend on the island, seemingly more concerned with drinking, singing and…fraternizing with the local prostitutes than with fighting, and Pelagia finds herself increasingly attracted to the officer billeted to share their house, Captain Antonio Corelli (Nicolas Cage).

The first thing to say about the film is that it looks absolutely gorgeous – along with The Beach, it could practically form its own sub-genre of ‘cinema du tourisme’. The photography, by John Toll is sumptuous, painting the island in rich blues and greens – in fact Cephallonia is clearly destined for a phenomenal boom in its tourist industry after this, so book early and try to get there before McDonalds does.

The acting is generally good, particularly Cruz, who is perfectly cast as Pelagia, and Hurt, who quietly steals each and every scene he’s in. There’s good support too, especially from David Morrissey, whose ‘good German’ is one of the best things in the movie (he deserves a much bigger film career),but also from Greek actress Irene Pappas (who was in Zorba the Greek) and Patrick Malahide – under-used, but still brilliant in a brief cameo as a Nazi officer.

Sadly, Cage is less impressive – he’s watchable and soulful as ever and fair play to him for actually mastering the mandolin-playing, but you never quite get a sense of just why Pelagia falls for him – in fact, it seems to happen in the space of one scene: a few notes on the old mandolin and –boom!- instant lurve.

Also, for an Italian-American, he makes a pretty poor stab at the Italian accent and ends up with a comedy sing-song accent that wouldn’t be out of place in a Cornetto ad.

Unfortunately, Cage’s accent isn’t the only linguistic disaster on display here – his comrades yell-a and-a scream-a in accents that only serve to make Cage’s sound marginally better than it is; Bale gives what sounds like it could be a decent Greek accent, except it bares no relation to anyone else’s; Cruz sticks with her own all-purpose ‘foreign’ accent (probably a wise move) and Hurt attempts to compensate for his lack of accent with an amusing moustache. Thus, the accents are all over the place, and that’s before you even get to the Germans!

Ultimately, what lets the film down is that, at least until the very end, there’s nothing at stake for the characters. The central love triangle doesn’t really come off, because there’s never any doubt that Mandras is wrong for Pelagia (he plays a cruel joke on her at their engagement, just to hammer this home), and yet we never feel that Corelli is the man of her dreams, either.

In fact, the sub-plot about Morrissey’s attraction to a local woman carries more emotional weight than the whole central relationship. Luckily, the outbreak of war on the island ensures there’s at least one emotionally wrenching scene before the end, but otherwise you may find yourself strangely unmoved.

To sum up, then, this is a beautiful film to look at and it’s never less than watchable – it will no doubt be a huge hit regardless of middling reviews. Worth seeing, but still somehow disappointing.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin has been reviewed by 1 users
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Content updated: 14/12/2017 04:31

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