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. With many of the films based on the work ultimately ending up being compared to previous adaptations.
BAFTA award-winning short filmmaker Toby MacDonald, therefore, manages somewhat of a miracle. As Old Boys manages to breathe some new life into the well-trodden ground. Helped enormously by a talented young cast and a witty script. Both playing with teenage feelings of powerlessness, belonging and first love. Not only paying homage to the method in which 10 Things I Hate About You brought Shakespeare’s into a modern American High School. But also playing with the theme of modernisation in a tongue in cheek manner. By taking Rostand’s Cyrano into the time warp of an oppressive British boarding school.
Old Boys is an impressive debut feature from MacDonald. His film taking place in the 1980s, while also acting as a love letter to simpler times. When communication was not dictated by smartphones, email and digital media. This nostalgia helping to ensure the romance of Cyrano’s play lives in each character.
One of the fascinating elements of Old Boys resides in the location of the film. One that takes the British boarding school and uses it as a template for teenage control, conformity and toxic masculinity. The stifled and testosterone-driven atmosphere acting as a barrier to love, respect and kindness. While the adults who walk its corridors merely justify the labels and class divide the institution creates. The disfigurements of Cyrano’s nose 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 of 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. With Old Boys once again managing to achieve something new with the source material. Giving us a strong female character, who longs for the freedom of creativity and release from perceived control. Her relationship to 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