Captain Corelli's Mandolin (15)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD FEATURES: Audio commentary by director John Madden; Music video: 'Ricordo Ancor' (Pellagia's theme by Russell Watson); soundtrack TV spot; theatrical trailer

VERY few films have arrived on UK screens carrying the weight of such expectation as Captain Corelli's Mandolin, given that it received its world premiere on these shores last year.

Louis De Bernieres novel, from which the film has been adapted, is said to be in one out of every 20 households in the UK and remained on the best sellers list for more than two years upon its initial release. It remains an enduring favourite of anyone who has read it (although I have to confess, I have yet to do so).

The movie itself is directed by John Madden, whose previous feature, Shakespeare in Love, was another UK favourite and high profile Oscar winner, while its rich and diverse cast includes the likes of Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, John Hurt and Christian Bale. And, needless to say, the film interpretation has already courted a certain amount of controversy for the way in which it changes certain characters and omits large sections of the novel, prompting the question, once more, can a great book be turned into a great movie?

Captain Corelli's Mandolin will probably leave people divided - and for that reason alone, will be among the year's talking points - but for me, it is a very good film indeed. Well acted and sumptuously shot on the picturesque Greek island of Cephallonia, Madden's interpretation manages to be both a convincing love story and another strong depiction of the brutality and devastating impact of war, chronicling as it does the fate of two nationalities during the Second World War.

Set between 1940 and 1947, Captain Corelli's Mandolin traces the uneasy love affair between a conscripted officer of the occupying Italian army and a strong-willed and beautiful young Cephallonian who is betrothed to another.

Nicolas Cage is Captain Antonio Corelli, a music-loving soldier who treats his latest assignment as a holiday a million miles away from the war, while Penelope Cruz is Pelagia, the woman who eventually comes to love him despite initially resenting his presence on her island. Inevitably, however, the war crashes upon these idyllic shores, forever changing the lives of the villagers and threatening the romance between the two lovers as Corelli must confront, first hand, the violent reality of the fighting.

Rounding out the cast are Christian Bale, as Mandras, Pelagia's betrothed and an unorthodox fisherman whose innocence is also shattered by the war; John Hurt, as Pelagia's wily old father, Dr Iannis, the village's physician; Irene Papas, as Mandras's formidable mother; David Morrissey as the German Captain Weber, who finds himself hopelessly seduced by Corelli's attitude to life; and a band of Italian actors and singers who appear as `The La Scala Boys', the amateur opera singers who comprise Corelli's company.

All combine to make Captain Corelli an emotionally satisfying experience, one which is as heartlifting as it can be devastating during its neatly paced two and a half hour running time. Cage, complete with a not always convincing Italian accent, makes an extremely engaging Corelli, while Hurt is simply superb as the free-speaking father and Cruz is suitably smouldering as Pelagia even if some of her earlier scenes with Bale offer her little to work with.

Madden's direction is also first rate (Cephallonia will no doubt become a hot tourist attraction), managing to combine the vital elements of a love story without ever romanticising the devastation of war - the battle scenes, in particular, are shattering and extremely well realised. The film isn't without its failings, however, and these are likely to be more glaring to fans of the book. For starters, Bale's Mandras feels under-developed, hence diminishing the impact of his character (a novel favourite), while the likes of Carlos, Corelli's friend and protector, feel as though they should warrant more screen time.

But on the whole, Captain Corelli's Mandolin is a beautifully realised and captivating piece of cinema that is likely to attract even more people to the novel.

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