Italians and Germans were always unlikely wartime partners. The superbly battle-trained Wehrmacht regarded the Italian army and its hedonistic love of wine, women, and song with near-disgust. When, in 1940, the Italians occupied the idyllic Greek island of Cephallonia they soon made the best of it, appreciating to the full the local delights while apologising to their unwilling hosts for being there at all.
Captain Corelli (Nicolas Cage) charms his men and the civilians with his kindness, love of opera, and hatred of war. Billeted at the house of the doctor (John Hurt), a humanitarian and religious sceptic, he wins his respect and the adoration of his daughter Pelagia (Penélope Cruz) although she is betrothed to Mandras, a handsome but illiterate village lad (Christian Bale) who has taken to the hills as a partisan. War then takes its terrible toll.
Louis de Bernière's dense novel is so replete with characters, events, and detail that any film would have to make drastic shortcuts to stay coherent. Remarkably, Shawn Slovo's screenplay manages to cram in a huge amount, but will inevitably have purists complaining that their favourite bit has been omitted.
However, in its own right the film works superbly. It is confidently directed by John Madden, and photographed in sun-drenched Mediterranean locations that leave you gasping for such azure skies and crystal-clear waters. Nicolas Cage's Italian ancestry exerts an appropriately atavistic influence on his entire body language, John Hurt is mesmeric as the doctor, while Cruz is stunningly beautiful and David Morrissey impressive as a confused German officer. Stephen Warbeck's evocative score enchants and the mandolin solo "Pelagia's Song" will become a film-theme standard. Undoubtedly this is a film of the year.
Visit the official UK website.