Edmund Rostand’s 1897 play based on the life of Cyrano De Bergerac has provided the backdrop for many films over the years. Therefore, I am sure that the play’s themes of love, friendship, difference, and intelligence are more than well known for most of you reading this. However, this creates a significant problem for filmmakers in achieving anything new or fresh with the core material. After all, this work has been translated so many times that any new adaptation is bound to be compared to previous works.
Therefore, BAFTA award-winning short filmmaker Toby MacDonald achieves somewhat of a miracle with his new movie, Old Boys. Here he manages to breathe new life into the classic Edmund Rostand play through a talented young cast and a witty and engaging screenplay. In Old Boys, MacDonald plays with a range of traditional coming-of-age themes, including powerlessness, belonging and first love in his adaptation of Rostand’s work. The result is a movie that treads similar ground to 10 Things I Hate About You but finds its own unique voice in taking Cyrano into the realms of the oppressive British boarding school. In many ways, Old Boys is a love letter to simpler times when smartphones, email and digital media did not dictate our communication methods.
However, the true genius of MacDonald’s movie resides in the film’s choice of location. Here we find the traditional British boarding school of If…. or Another Country reflected through a veil of control, conformity and toxic masculinity. The stifled, testosterone-driven atmosphere, a barrier to love, respect and kindness as the adults encourage and accelerate the labels of the class divide the insular institution creates. In MacDonald’s world, Cyrano’s enormous nose is replaced by the disfigurement of wealth and position in British society.
A genuinely exceptional cast sits at the heart of this tender, sweet yet politically and socially conscious comedy/drama. Alex Lawther’s awkward, intelligent, and loving Amberson is spellbinding, while Jonah Hauer-King’s lovable, misunderstood, but spoilt Winchester is superb. Here we have two young men from different sides of the tracks joined in one quest for their own convenience, both hiding for one another, yet both in need of the other. Meanwhile, in Pauline Etienne’s Angus, we have a strong female character who longs for the freedom of creativity and release from perceived control. Old Boys wears its heart on its sleeve throughout, with some cracking comedy, but it is within Macdonald’s reflections of the bumbling nature of teenage love, virginity and confidence that Old Boys shines.
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