Directed by: John Madden
Written by:Shawn Slovo
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, John Hurt, Christian Bale, David Morrissey
Released: August 23, 2001
Grade: B

Cephalonia is a small island in southern Greece that was very much a part of World War II.  Writer Louis de Bernieres used this beautiful location to pen a fictitious love story set against the backdrop of this war.  It’s taken only six years for his rich novel to make it on screen and importantly, it provides the material for director John Madden’s much anticipated latest project.  His last film, Shakespeare In Love, took home the Academy Award for best picture back in 1999.

Pelagia (Cruz), a ravishing young lady, lives with her elderly father (Hurt) in a small coastal house with a breathtaking view of the Ionian Sea.  In the quiet community, her heart has been won by Mandras (Bale), a reputable local fisherman who would make a worthy husband.  Seeking the advice of her father, Pelagia is warned of the upcoming war and that marriage shouldn’t be rushed into.  Mandras must go to Albania to fight the advancing Italians but before leaving, makes a vow to marry on his return.

In a fierce battle, the Italians surrender but Mandras is not heard from.  Having written letters every day, Pelagia cannot understand why Mandras does not reply and fearing him to be dead, convinces herself to let go of his love.  Soon after, the Germans join forces with the Italians and Greece is invaded.  Cephalonia is used as a base for Italians soldiers, who despite their enemy status, become an appreciated part of the community with their gentlemanly-like approach.

Captain Antonio Corelli (Cage) is a respected leader of the Italians and takes residence in the home of Pelagia and her father.  Pelagia is understandably cold towards his presence but an undeniable attraction develops between them.  Adding to her already fragile emotional state, doubts flood her every thought.  What will happen when to Antonio when the war is over and what will happen if Mandras should return?

Filmed on the actual island, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin cannot be criticised for its setting.  At times, I felt myself more attentive to the stunning backgrounds than the characters dominating the foreground.  It’s a kind of beauty that has you saying after the film, “geez, I’d like to go there someday.”

The cast deliver strong performances with Nicolas Cage startlingly impressive.  I’ve been critical of him since Leaving Las Vegas but his slow-talking downplayed style suits the role of Antonio.  Penelope Cruz’s starlet power seems destined to keep her limited to romantic roles with Captain Corelli following All The Pretty Horses, Blow and Woman On Top in her quick rise to fame.  Few may not recognise Christian Bale who with a beard and an extra 15kg looks anything but the image of Patrick Bateman we came to know this time last year in American Psycho.

Settings and cast aside, the film falters in its failure to ignite passion.  This is not a story about the injustices of war - it’s a tale of love and how cruel and painful it can sometimes be.  All things given, I felt no emotion towards Cage and Cruz and was more attracted by the stylish introduction and key battle scene.  The final half-hour left me bored stiff as I expected the closing credits to start rolling but was kept waiting and waiting.  Who cared what finally became of Antonio and “poor” Pelagia?

John Madden has directed a well-developed production and credit must be given where due.  I must specially acknowledge composer Stephen Warbeck who’s score captures the feeling of the era with precision.  I own more than one of Warbeck’s soundtracks (Billy Elliot, Shakespeare In Love) and this is another that as of tomorrow, goes on my immediate shopping list.

Despite best efforts, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin just does not effectively translate on screen.  Void of emotion, I don’t expect your attention span will last the distance.