Edmund Rostand’s 1897 play based on the life of Cyrano De Bergerac has provided the backdrop for many films over the years. To say nothing of the number of movies and plays it has helped to inspire. The play’s themes of love, friendship, difference, and intelligence are well known and can provide a significant challenge to filmmakers in achieving anything new or fresh. Many of the films based on his work ultimately compared to previous adaptations.
BAFTA award-winning short filmmaker Toby MacDonald, therefore, manages somewhat of a miracle, with Old Boys managing to breathe some new life into the well-trodden ground. This is helped enormously by a talented young cast and a witty script, that plays with teenage feelings of powerlessness, belonging and first love. The result paying homage to 10 Things I Hate About You. But Old Boys also finds its own unique voice by taking Rostand’s Cyrano into the time warp of an oppressive British boarding school.
Old Boys is an impressive debut feature from MacDonald and a love letter to simpler times. Here communication is not dictated by smartphones, email and digital media. This nostalgia helps to ensure the romance of Cyrano’s play lives in each character despite the 80s themes at play.
But the true genius of Old Boys resides in the location of the film. Here the British boarding school is used as a template for control, conformity and toxic masculinity. The stifled and testosterone-driven atmosphere, acting as a barrier to love, respect and kindness. While adults merely justify the labels and class divide the institution creates. In MacDonald’s translation, the disfigurements of Cyrano’s nose are replaced by a system that values wealth and position over everything else.
Old Boys wears its heart on its sleeve throughout, providing some truly funny, sweet and tender moments. While also expressing the bumbling nature of teenage love, virginity and emerging confidence. Alex Lawther’s Amberson is full of awkward and endearing energy, proving once again why Lawther is such an exciting young talent. While Jonah Hauer-King is equally lovable as Winchester. A young man whose destiny has clearly been pre-written by his wealthy parents, no matter his academic ability. And it is here, within the relationship between Lawther and Hauer-King that Old Boys truly shines. A dynamic only enhanced on the introduction of Pauline Etienne’s Angus. A strong female character, who longs for the freedom of creativity and release from perceived control. Her relationship with both young men, full of spice, creativity and flare.
Old Boys is a charming and fresh take on Rostand’s Cyrano, playing beautifully with representations of masculinity, freedom and societal expectations.
Director: Toby MacDonald