Have you ever read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières? If not, you absolutely should. As in, I highly recommend this be the next book you pick up. This book was a recommendation to me by a good friend, and boy am I glad! I couldn’t shut up about it to my husband and have convinced him to read it (even though he now knows what happens). Louis de Bernières wrote such an extraordinary book that was, to use the words of C.S. Lewis, “an experience so momentous that only experiences of love, religion, or bereavement can furnish a standard of comparison“.
I do have to warn you of two things: First- if you have not read the book, what you read below will contain spoilers, otherwise my post would be an extremely vague and awful summary of the book (and that being said, this will be a rather lengthy post). Second- do not opt for seeing the movie adaption of the book. If you have seen the movie but not read the book, I beg of you to read the book. So this book review is more of a comparison of the book to the movie adaption, and the book rises high, high above the movie (as they usually do for us book lovers).
Here’s my beef with the movie adaption: Nearly everything! My poor husband probably got so tired of me shaking my head and commenting, ‘That is NOT how it happens in the book!’. These are the things that bother me the most with Shawn Slovo’s (the writer) rendition: The exclusion of Carlo’s (and a few others) character, the problem with Mandras, the ENTIRE ending, and a handful of other minor inconsistencies.
Let’s start with the exclusion of Carlo’s character. Carlo is sort of the force that blends the story together. Let’s look at it this way- it’s as if in one hand we have the people of Cephallonia and in the other hand we have the war through the letters of Carlo. De Bernières uses Carlo to really bring the war to light for us here and how it affected the individual. In the movie, we are shown maybe a short snippet of life in Cephallonia before the occupation but we are shown nothing of the war front as seen from Carlo’s letters. I think it’s pretty apparent in the book what an important aspect Carlo plays, but in the movie he isn’t even introduced until we are also introduced to La Scala! So when Carlo saves Corelli’s life in front of the firing squad, in the book we know his motivation, we know his story! But in the movie all we see is a brave solider saving the life of his Captain. But it is so much more than that… Let’s not forget the exclusion of Psipsina (who makes for some adorable and hilarious scenes in the book), Antonia, the GOOD relationship between Drosoula and Pelagia, and really just about everything after the part where Slovo decided he was essentially rewriting the book to have a sugary happy ending. Excuse me, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The problem I have with the movie version of Mandras is an essential part of his character has been changed, it flip flopped his transformation. In the book when he and Pelagia first meet, they have a very innocent, flirty relationship. It’s a first love sort of innocence. But in the movie we are shown Mandras’ teasing in a mean sort of manner. I could understand this if Slovo carried on de Bernières’ intentions for Mandras but he took it his own way and turned Mandras into a sort of ‘good guy’ when he tries to help the Italians attack the Germans and when he assists Captain Corelli’s return to Italy. That is NOT how it happens in the book, it’s not true to his character at all. Mandras originally joins the Greek army because he feels the need to look more honorable to the doctor and Pelagia. He is put off by the fact he doesn’t ‘deserve’ a dowry and is trying to prove his place is not below that of the doctor and Pelagia. When he returns from the war, he has survived with the sole idea of Pelagia. The Pelagia he dreamed of kept him going. But he is bitterly shocked when Pelagia doesn’t even recognize him sitting in the kitchen, when he see how the war has changed her too and thus changed their relationship. Now he feels he is even more inferior in the eyes of Dr. Iannis and Pelagia. Now he feels he must leave Pelagia again, but he doesn’t seem to understand this only makes Pelagia bitter. And when does he leave to join the partisans? The day the Italians arrive to occupy the island.
I can sort of understand how the Slovo squished together the Italians arrival and Mandras’ return from the war up to his departure to join the partisans. Okay, maybe Slovo did that to save on time, to more fully develop the plot with the Italian occupation. But let’s just be clear that part in the book is so much more powerful. Mandras is crazed from the war, from his journey back to Cephallonia, from the shock of his dreamed up version of Pelagia and the reality of how the war has already transformed their relationship. And Slovo choose to breeze over that. At the time I didn’t understand why, seeing as that unveils deep character roots for Pelagia later in the story when Mandras returns, having read Pelagia’s letters for himself uncovering what they truly say. But I also didn’t know Slovo had rewritten de Bernières’ intentions for Pelagia and Mandras. Slovo wanted a smoother ending for the two of them, one that did not unveil Mandras to be a slimy, selfish toad.
Speaking of endings, let’s talk about the problem I have with the movies ENTIRE ending. Here I define the ‘ending’ as the moment Slovo decided to bring Mandras back to the island before Captain Corelli leaves for Italy, even before the Italians fight the Germans. At that point in the movie, when Pelagia goes to Drosoula’s house and Mandras appears, I turned to husband and said, ‘Now I have no idea where the movie is going.’ I was at a loss for words. It throws the rest of the story off. You see, when Mandras actually returns, Captain Corelli has already been shot through Carlo, he has already left for Italy, Pelagia and Drosoula are living in the same house and Mandras is an arrogant, awful creature. In fact, he doesn’t stay around for long. But in the movie he is the one who saves Captain Corelli? No, no, no, Velisarios did that! So according to Slovo, Corelli now owes his life to Mandras? Now Mandras cannot be the ‘bad guy’. Slovo takes it one step further and has Mandras actually help Corelli escape back to Italy. You see, that just messes up the rest of the de Bernières’ story.
Here are some other small irksome inconsistencies that
makes this an overly critical review of a movie that came out 13 years ago totally make sense to a book lover committed to the de Bernières’ true story: First and foremost, Slovo makes it seem as if the earthquake happens in 1947- you can’t change history! It happened in 1953! The hanging of the woman? The dance? Those things weren’t in the book at all. So Slovo decided there was time to write that in but not time to send Mandras away the way he should have? Not enough time to show tiny moments of flirting that develops the love between the Captain and Pelagia? Time to create a whole scene that wasn’t in the book? Why did he feel it necessary to move Captain Corelli out of the doctors house? If he hadn’t done that and stuck by the book there would have been plenty of opportunities to write in little moments between the Captain and Pelagia so it didn’t seem like they SUDDENLY fell in love. In the book the relationship between Pelagia and the Corelli is much lighter. Pelagia tries so hard to hate him but can’t help fall for him. But in the movie there is way too much tension between the two of them, we can tell Corelli loves Pelagia but the feelings radiating from Pelagia- confusion, frustration, bitterness- don’t make much sense. Their love seems to be born more of mad passion than true love. Also, one big thing here that irked me that we need to get straight- in the book the Captain and Pelagia NEVER have sex. Why did Slovo write that in? I think de Bernières makes it pretty clear that the two of the them never have sex. These are just the highlights, I know I could point out more. So yes, I believe Slovo was unnecessarily inconsistent in many regards.
While I commend the idea of creating a movie of the book, I feel it did not strongly represent the book. The movie changes a lot that I don’t think was necessary and that just changed the whole feel of the book. I know it’s difficult to wrap an extraordinary book into two hours and writers/producers might not be able to put everything in the movie that was in the book but de Bernières was able to fill us with so much emotion with the book. With the movie adaption there was none of that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not harping on all movie adaptions. There are a lot of really strong adaptions out there (and yes those stronger adaptions probably had a bigger budget…) but this comes down to character portrayal and plot lines. In other words, strong movie adaptions just all around stay more true to the book in terms of director and producer decisions, it really has very little to do with the budget. It’s as if someone read the book and thought, ‘oh wow this is a great book but what I would rather see happen is…’. Sure when we read books we sometimes wish for a happier ending or get so invested with the characters that we get frustrated with the way they act…but when it comes to a great book we aren’t willing to essentially rewrite the book to fit our whims.
Have you read the book? Seen the adaption? What are your thoughts?
As always, if you have book recommendations, I would love to hear them!