Following Oscar nominations for his last two films Mrs Brown and Shakespeare In Love (the latter wiping the board with the competition two years ago), director John Madden offers us a wartime tale of Caepholonia under Italian occupation. At the story’s core and against a backdrop of Mussolini’s relationship with Hitler and its effect on southern Europe, Madden is on familiar ground by placing two people unlikely to fall for each other entirely in love.
Penelope Cruz, who I am sure will be appearing in Eastenders soon, being as ubiquitous as she presently is (see Blow and All The Pretty Horses), is near-perfect as a young Greek girl coming to terms with Italian occupation of her island. She lives with her Greek father, played with aplomb by John Hurt, even if his accent does shift around somewhat from scene to scene. He’s a doctor and is ordered to billet an Italian officer in his house; furore ensues, especially when the mandolin-playing Captain Corelli (Nic Cage, looking like an abandoned puppy when he isn’t taking on Richard Madely for Most Irritating Screen Presence Of The Year) turns up, declaring his love for Puccini and generally being Italian.
Christian Bale, surely worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role here, plays a Greek mercenary who sees it as his duty to fight the Axis powers’ tyranny. He starts the film as Cruz’s love interest, but when he leaves to join the war effort, the way is open for Captain Corelli to romance his way into the young girl’s affections.
Nowhere near as engaging as Madden’s previous films, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin at least offers some creditable acting roles to established and emerging stars, stunning vistas and slickly executed military scenes. Cage is not really up to the task offered to him here which is a shame, for it isn’t for want of trying. John Hurt’s narrative skips about, as does the story, but acting as a Greek Chorus he tops and tails the film with disarming charm. A film that is charming is often a stone’s throw from sentimentality too; but anyone keen on seeing the formation of an unlikely couple under unlikely circumstances will lap this up. The rest of us can make do with the scenery.