Based on Louis de Bernière's novel, the standard period-romance story line follows a young native of Greece's sun-drenched isle of Cephalonia ("Blow's" Penelope Cruz) as her life is disrupted by the arrival of the occupying Italian army. First her fiance ("American Psycho's" Christian Bale) runs off to fight for Greece, then a music-loving Italian artillery captain (Nicolas Cage) is billeted in the home she shares with her wise physician father (a terrific John Hurt). As an attraction builds between the heroine and the singing, mandolin-strumming enemy officer--the nicest Fascist you'd ever want to meet--events conspire to make things as tough on the lovers as possible.
With its gorgeously shot island locations, interesting historical backdrop and charismatic cast, "Corelli" has many of the ingredients for a memorable wartime soap opera, but its overcooked treatment of the romantic material is a disappointment when one considers the far more subtle and original voice director Madden brought to his 1997 Queen Victoria love story "Mrs. Brown." The offbeat Cage is somewhat out of his element affecting an Italian accent in a picture as earnest and sentimental as this one, but at least he's never dull, and in any case the Spanish heart-melter Cruz is capable of providing enough heat for two. Far more troubling is the film's tendency to gloss over questions such as the responsibility of its Italian and German characters for their country's wartime actions, an element that, had it been more fully explored, might have given the oversimplified "Corelli" the backbone it so desperately needed. Starring Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, John Hurt, Christian Bale, David Morrissey and Irene Papas. Directed by John Madden. Written by Shawn Slovo. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Mark Huffam and Kevin Loader. A Universal release. Historical romance. Rated R for some violence, sexuality and language. Running time: 128 min