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Writer and critic David Taylor
"Penélope Cruz goes someway towards redeeming the film"
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Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Nicholas Cage is Captain Corelli
Nicholas Cage isn't entirely convincing in a period film
By BBC News Online's Olive Clancy

Pity the makers of Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

Louis de Berničre's book is so beloved of millions that even a director like John Madden - himself the auteur of such beloved films as Mrs Brown and Shakespeare in Love - could not hope to get away unscathed.

He has argued that you cannot make a two-hour movie out of a 500-page novel without making changes, and on this most people would agree.

Something had to give.

Unfortunately, out went some of the more nuanced and interesting elements of the book.

The unrequited homosexual love, the Greek partisan fighter scathed by war and vicious as a consequence, the depiction of love outlasting infatuation into old age - all are abandoned.

Penelope Cruz is feisty Pelagia
Cruz is a lovely but vapid starlet and still has something to prove

What is left is a love story and a fairly simple one at that.

Spanish actress Penélope Cruz plays the local girl swept off her feet by the mandolin-toting Italian captain who is posted for the duration of World War II on the island of Cephalonia.

Much is made of star-in-waiting Cruz who shot to fame with her memorable portrayal of a pregnant nun in Pedro Almodóvar's Oscar winner All About My Mother.

Cruz does look just right as the intelligent, love-lorn Pelagia.

But on the evidence of this movie she is not so much a European actress dazzling Hollywood in the mould of Bergman or Garbo as a lovely but vapid starlet.

She will have to turn out more expressive performances in the upcoming and much-hyped Blow with Johnny Depp, Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise and All The Pretty Horses with Matt Damon to hang on to her It-girl status.

Nicolas Cage plays the captain and though he has said that he was anxious to play a period role, on the evidence of this film he should stick to the contemporary parts that he plays so well.

John Hurt is Pelagia's father
John Hurt plays Iannis and is closest to his persona in the novel

It could be that I am typecasting him for his gritty modern performances like those of Bringing Out the Dead or Wild at Heart, but he just did not convince as an opera singing charmer in fatigues.

Still though, he too is an eminently watchable star and one cannot help but warm to the character, particularly as he realises how näive he has been about the nature of war and the tenuous nature of wartime friendships.

Veteran theatre actor John Hurt, who starred in Elephant Man, makes a very creditable Dr Iannis - Pelagia's wise father - though perhaps a touch too wise-by-half in this version.

Of all the characters, he is the one closest to his persona in the novel.

So far, so romantic.

But this is a film about war and there is just enough gore, military manoeuvring and tinny announcements from the BBC overseas service to keep fans of such happy.

Do not come to this film looking for a faithful adaptation of the book nor should you come expecting to see the greatest film of the year

There is the touch of a complicated love story when a German officer attempts to woo a local girl - but just a touch.

In the end, the real star of this movie is Cephalonia - and it is a performance that will undoubtedly launch a million package holidays.

The island is stunningly beautiful and lovingly filmed - worth the cinema ticket alone, particularly if you have not been on holiday for a while.

Do not come to this film looking for a faithful adaptation of the book nor should you come expecting to see the greatest film of the year.

But it is a pleasant movie, and there are plenty of Academy Award best picture nominees that are little more than that.

It should perhaps be judged for what it is and not for what it is not.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is on general release from 4 May

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