Captain Corelli's Mandolin : Production Notes

PosterThe Greek island of Cephallonia rises, forgotten and timeless, from the brilliant turquoise of the Ionian Sea, home to a people who love their land without question. Nature has taken liberties with Cephallonia, shaking and twisting it with furious earthquakes, but the island responded with dignity and resilience, preserving its traditions and myths for generations,... until 1941, when a war that was convulsing the world finally reached its shores.

Universal Pictures, StudioCanal and Miramax Films proudly present a Working Title Films production, CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN, directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love (1998)), about the enduring hope of love and the devastating brutality of war that unfolds as Italian troops occupy Greece during World War II. The film stars Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, John Hurt, Christian Bale, Irene Papas and David Morrissey. The screenplay by Shawn Slovo is adapted from the best-selling novel of the same name by Louis de Bernières. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Kevin Loader and Mark Huffam, the director of photography is John Toll, production designer is Jim Clay, costume designer is Alexandra Byrne and the editor is Mick Audsley. Stephen Warbeck has composed the original score

CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN traces a love that begins uneasily between a conscripted officer of the occupying Italian army, Captain Antonio Corelli, portrayed by Academy Award-winner Nicolas Cage -- and Pelagia, a strong-willed, ambitious young Cephallonian played by Penelope Cruz.

When Corelli and his company of men arrive on the unspoiled island, they think of their stay as a kind of Grecian holiday, with the war a distant radio dispatch. At first Pelagia and the other villagers resent these uninvited guests, but ultimately, the Italians' charm and passion for life wear away the divisions of nationality and circumstance, and Pelagia comes to see Corelli for the man he is: full of love for life, for his music, even for her.

Inevitably, the war crashes upon the idyllic shores of Cephallonia, forever upsetting its tranquility, for the inhabitants as well as for the comfortably garrisoned Italians. The tender connection that has grown between Antonio and Pelagia is threatened. As Captain Corelli faces the violent realities of warfare, he must confront the possibility of leaving Cephallonia and the woman he has come to love. Pelagia knows that she, too, is powerless in the face of war and must say goodbye to her lover, with no certainty that they will ever meet again.

CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN also stars John Hurt as Pelagia's father, Dr. Iannis, the village's resident physician as well as its unofficial historian and mediator of local disputes. Christian Bale plays Pelagia's betrothed, an unsophisticated fisherman called Mandras whose innocence is obliterated by the savagery of war. The international cast also includes the distinguished Greek actress Irene Papas as Mandras' formidable mother; David Morrissey as the German Captain Weber, who also finds himself seduced by Corelli's approach to life; and a band of Italian actors and singers who appear as "The La Scala Boys," the amateur opera singers who comprise Corelli's company

Argostoli, Cephallonia. 1940

As the annual religious Feast of St. Gerasimos begins in the village streets high above the port of Argostoli, Dr. Iannis (John Hurt) is removing a pea from a local man's ear. Stamatis (Gerasimos Skiadaresis) hears properly for the first time since he was a boy.

At the festival afterwards, Velisarios (PEDRO SARUBBI) sets off his cannon, inadvertently peppering the backside of a handsome young fisherman, Mandras (CHRISTIAN BALE), who's taken to the doctor's house to be treated. There, his relationship with Iannis’ daughter becomes clear, as Dr. Iannis teases Pelagia (Penelope Cruz) by encouraging her to detail the muscular structure of her boyfriend’s behind.

Later, the doctor goes to the café to socialise with his friends and get news of the war. Until recently, the conflict has seemed far away, but radio broadcasts announce the invasion of neighbouring Albania by the Italian Army.

In the weeks to come, the relationship between Pelagia and Mandras' deepens to the point of a formal betrothal. Next day, Mandras departs to fight the Italians on the Albanian border, leaving behind his new fiancee and weeping mother, Drosoula (IRENE PAPAS).

As the months pass, Pelagia's letters to Mandras go unanswered. Then, as suddenly as it erupted, the war in Albania is over. The Greek victory is short-lived, however, as Germany comes to the aid of its ally. In April, Greece is forced to surrender. While Germany occupies the mainland, Italy is assigned the Ionian Islands. By May, Cephallonia is occupied by Italians as well as a cadre of German overseers headed by Captain Gunter Weber (DAVID MORRISSEY).

Commanded to lodge an Italian officer in his home, Dr. Iannis refuses until a deal is struck to provide him with medical supplies. Then Captain Antonio Corelli (NICOLAS CAGE) appears. A music lover and mandolin player, Corelli and the young men under his command constitute an unlikely choir of opera singers who call themselves "La Scala."

Whether shaving, or cavorting on the beach with ladies of ill repute, Corelli and the La Scala lads win a place in the hearts of the Cephallonians. At this stage the occupation seems more like a summer holiday. Yet, dangers are real, one being the developing attraction between Corelli and Pelagia. When Mandras returns from the war, in poor physical condition, he fears he has lost his girl to the invader. Nonetheless, when his wounds heal he leaves again - this time to join the Greek Partisans

1943. A period of confusion and chaos ensues following the fall of Mussolini. On Cephallonia, Italian troops are jubilant, expecting to be sent home. After Italy surrenders to the Allies, Germans demand that the Italians surrender their weapons as a condition to being sent home. Corelli and his men are ambushed at gunpoint by German soldiers, including Weber, and disarmed. There is a show-down between the Italian commander, General Gandin (ROBERTO CITRAN) and his German counterpart Colonel Barge (PATrICK MALAHIDE). Corelli and his men realise that they must resist the imminent German reinforcement of the island, so they smuggle Italian weapons to the partisans and prepare for a joint resistance. On the eve of battle, Corelli and Pelagia have an emotional farewell, uncertain whether they will ever see one another again.

The day of battle arrives, and the German stukas devastate the Italian defences; boatloads of soldiers and weaponry arrive to reinforce the attack. Corelli and his men fight bravely to defend Argostoli, but are rounded up and taken to an isolated field. There, Weber oversees their execution.

Corelli alone survives, protected by his friend Carlo. Searching through the carnage for survivors, Mandras finds Corelli and carries him to the doctor's house. Iannis and Pelagia use Corelli's mandolin strings to bind his rib cage together

Pelagia nurses Corelli back to health, but he is a shattered man, guilty of his part in his soldiers' death and worried that he is risking the lives of Iannis and Pelagia by his presence in their house. When an Italian soldier is found next door, Pelagia realises he must leave the island as a matter of urgency. Mandras assists in his night-time escape in the futile hope that Pelagia will love him anew for the deed. She makes it clear that her love is now for Corelli - even though she thinks he has left forever.

1947. The war is over. Dr. Iannis and Pelagia have adopted their orphan neighbour, Lemoni, and Pelagia has begun her medical training. One day the mail brings a gramophone recording of Corelli's music, played now on a guitar. Pelagia doesn't know how to react so her father decides to write to Corelli. As he is writing the letter, a massive earthquake shakes the island. Pelagia rushes home to find her father, dazed but alive, in the ruins of the house

At the next Feast of St. Gerasimos, Corelli returns. He and Pelagia take the first tentative steps towards re-discovering their love, as the villagers slip back into the old rhythms of island life.

From Script To Screen

Producer Kevin Loader bought the rights to Louis de Bernières' novel, "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" shortly after it was published. "I thought it was a fantastic story about a forgotten corner of the world." He gave it to his colleague, director Roger Michell who agreed to helm it.

The book became a British publishing phenomenon, remaining on best seller lists for more than two years. It's said to be in one out of every 20 households in the UK.

Together, Loader and Michell approached Tim Bevan at Working Title Films, Britain's leading production company. Bevan said, "I loved it, and though its structure was difficult, it had a lot of emotion and a great love story. That's a cinematic event whichever way you look at it." Shawn Slovo was commissioned to write the screenplay.

Between that moment and the onset of filming in May 2000, Roger Michell had a heart attack and had to withdraw from the film.

By then, Nicolas Cage had agreed to do the title role of Corelli - but his start and stop dates were fixed and set. "We wanted a European director who could do a movie of scale," said Bevan. "John Madden was at the top of that list. He read the script and committed to the movie the same night."

"The book had a tremendous profile so I'd got a whiff of it," Madden remembers. "I was immediately moved by the possibilities and dimensions of a love story unfolding in an extraordinary and unusual setting - love across the borders, as it were, during the occupation of one country by another. A young woman who struggles with her obligations to her community and traditions, and the demands of her own heart -- and the price she has to pay for what she chooses."

"I was intrigued by its depiction of a unique world and an insular people with only a distant sense of the conflict which will eventually engulf them, threatening a love that hasn't had time to take root." Madden's interest deepened when he became aware of the historical circumstances which inspired the book - "the uneasy relationship between Italians and Germans -- by no means natural allies -- and the paradox of two cultures -- the Italians and the Greeks -- finding that underneath the hostility they are the same people."

Although Madden knew "the train had left the station," as Bevan put it, he jumped right in and began working with Shawn Slovo to "shake up" the script in a somewhat different direction. Bevan said: "He says you can't have enough stories in the Story, so he brings narrative, narrative, narrative to the script, and every single image pushes the story forward."

The filmmakers scouted locations for their epic love story and visited nearly all of the Greek islands in the Ionian Sea, as well as spots in the Mediterranean and Aegean. But something about the spirit and splendour of Cephallonia demanded that they film their tale on the same island that inspired Louis de Bernières to write his book.

"The story is set on this island and, against all conventional wisdom, we decided to shoot the thing there," Madden remembers. "The whole identity of the film is completely bound up in the place that we're in."

CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN ineffably reflects having been made in the very place where the tragic events occurred. "We felt sobered, and burdened, with a sense of commitment," says Madden. "We met citizens who had kept Italians and refugees in their houses, who had survived and lived through the earthquake. We wanted to convey the uniqueness of the story, and honour the lives of the people it is describing."

With script work ongoing, and Madden also casting, line producer Mark Huffam was flying back and forth between London, Athens, Rome and Cephallonia putting together the elements needed for an epic historical movie. The logistics of transporting everything needed for filming onto an island approximately 500 miles off the western coast of Greece were formidable but, said Bevan, "we finally created a kind of Shepperton-on-Sea which was very containable."

Their Athens point-person, British-born Associate Producer Susie Tasios, persuaded the Greek government to provide assistance with personnel, weaponry and warships; and the Tourist Board to help with accommodations during high tourist season on Cephallonia. Ultimately, cast and crew were stashed in private homes, lodges and apartment buildings all over the large island (277 square miles). This required the importation of 120 self-drive cars so they could get to work.

Sixty-four trucks filled with film equipment made the tortuous journey from London to Cephallonia - returning when the shoot was finished. The journeys took more than a week. From Cephallonia, the trucks and equipment were ferried to Italy where they utilized a combination of roads and transport trains as they continued into Austria, Germany and Belgium before reaching Calais. At that juncture, they clambered onto another ferry, cruising to Dover before chugging on to Wokeford, near London.

"I hope," said Bevan, "that people will go to the movie in the same spirit they might open a book, and go on a journey to a place they didn't know existed, with people they'd never imagined meeting, and have a great emotional experience before they close the cover. I think that's the perfect movie, if we can achieve it."

Nicolas Cage As Captain Antonio Corelli

Nicolas Cage -- whose on-screen portrayals range from his Oscar-winning role in Leaving Las Vegas (1995) through intimate character study in Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead (1999) to starring roles in action blockbusters including Rock, The (1996) Con Air (1997), Face/Off (1997) and Gone in 60 Seconds (2000) - was drawn to the character of Corelli because of the challenges it provided and the life-altering journey he undergoes

"The character wasn't like anything I've played before. Corelli is very full of life, someone who is really kind of a boy. But the devastating reality hits that this experience isn't just one big party. Somewhere in that process, he becomes a man," he says.

Shooting the film on the island of Cephallonia infused Cage's performance with weight and meaning as well. "Being on Cephallonia where the actual tale took place has its own value in terms of performance," he explained. "I felt in touch with the ghosts that were there. I didn't think they would hurt me because I felt that they wanted me to tell that story."

Madden considers Nicolas Cage uniquely suited to inhabiting the life-devouring character of Corelli. "Nic has a superb range as an actor, effortlessly encompassing the extremes required of him for this part. He is passionate and obsessive, bending himself to the task of mastering a strange instrument, and a foreign dialect," said the director. "He is seductive, charming and romantic, wielding humour as a wickedly effective weapon, and yet he is also fearless, happy to risk taking an audience into dark corners, and to test their affections for him."

"He's a natural subversive, approaching scenes from a lateral, skewed perspective which often exploded a scene into unexpected life. He was able to find seriousness in jest, and intense humanity in the contrasting circumstances of wartime occupation," Madden observed.

The love that is stolen from Corelli and Pelagia is particularly heartbreaking. As Madden explains, "Corelli is an irresistible man: irreverent, funny, hedonistic, utterly spontaneous, less interested in the mechanics of war than in the melodic intricacies of his mandolin, preferring to train his men to sing Puccini than to fire weapons. During the story, he falls helplessly and passionately in love with Pelagia, who is herself betrothed to a passionate young partisan, Mandras, committed to liberating his homeland from the tyranny of occupation. As the war begins to engulf this fragile and beautiful world, Corelli discovers in himself someone very different, becoming an unlikely defender of the island he came to conquer, until the war strips him bare, and wrenches him from the love of his life."

Cage said, "With Corelli I was able to show, I think, how Italians at their roots can be - their love of music and creativity, for example, and their dislike of violence. Historically, Italians were not very aggressive as soldiers. They did not support fascism."

Aside from wearing woolen uniforms in 130 degree heat, one of the more daunting aspects of Cage's work as Antonio Corelli was learning to play the mandolin. "I have no musical ability to speak of - no training. My approach was to attack and conquer it, somehow, by constant practice." The actor downplays his achievement by calling it "mimicry or memorization of three or four songs" but fellow thespian Irene Papas doesn't see it that way. "I was so impressed that I cried. It was obvious how much he'd worked to get to that point of skill."

Penélope Cruz As Pelagia

The film finally belongs to the character of Pelagia, who transforms from an innocent girl into a woman suffused with the melancholy experience of war. Spanish superstar Penelope Cruz delivered the precise mixture of hope and despair that define Pelagia. Cruz recalls her reaction on first reading the script for CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN: "I felt so many things: laughter and crying and anger. And that's what I want when I read something. This story is full of heart."

Madden was astonished by Cruz's complete immersion in the role. "Penélope absolutely inhabited the part on the page," he recalled. "Her character is the register for every twist and convulsion of the story. She pulls an audience to her, living, rather than indicating, her experience. She has an extraordinary way of letting people in, the gift of all great actors. She has a radiantly charismatic presence, and a beauty that isn't about glamour. She also has simplicity as well as passion and ferocity - the emotional volatility the character possesses.

Cage likewise praises the young Spanish actress. "Watching her act is like watching life, or somebody who's really 'being'. She is multi-talented, with an innate ability to tap into, almost instantly, a reservoir of raw emotion."

When Pelagia and Corelli meet he is the 'enemy' but she is drawn to him despite herself. "It's like meeting someone you feel you've known before, maybe from another life," she explains. "You don't know what to think immediately but you feel something similar to physical attraction. Pelagia doesn't want to admit her feelings but it's like a force of nature for both of them."

"The same thing happens to her father," the actress continues, "who, in a way, also falls in love with the 'enemy.' The situation in which they find themselves makes it difficult to share their feelings. If you put little animals together, you get the same reaction. You can't cover up those feelings indefinitely."

The father-daughter relationship is equally powerful. "It's strong, in part because she grew up without her mother, who died," says Cruz. "Her father gives her his trust as well as a lot of freedom and respect. He has confidence in her ability to become a doctor." The actress feels she and John Hurt had a "special relationship" right from the start. "We have things we can use from each other, which happened also with the other actors. Sometimes things are just smooth and fluid, and in the right place, and I think that always comes from the director. John Madden is amazing, magical."

John Hurt As Dr Iannis

"At the centre of the story is the relationship between father and daughter which survives everything and heals the wounds of history," explains John Madden. "Dr. Iannis' voice -- his experience, his sense of loss, and his belief in his daughter -- becomes the voice of the island, a place riven and shattered, but which builds on the rubble of the past a future of hope and renewal."

"The concept of healing is integral both to the vocation of medicine and to the mythology of Cephallonia. It takes the father's intervention to provide the balm that heals. That is why he writes the letter to Corelli."

"The story to some extent is about the balance between practical ideology and humanism. Although the culture is steeped in religious belief, Dr. Iannis is not a religious person - yet the moral heart of the film resides in him. He and Corelli have a natural affinity because this is true of him as well. Despite being the aggressor and occupier, Iannis immediately senses that Corelli is a man worthy of his daughter."

John Hurt grew a proper moustache for his role. "The Greeks are very proud of their moustaches," he comments. "They're an important part of their facial make-up and it's subtle enough not to interfere." The actor also had to master an accent, aided by voice coach, Joan Washington, and by being on the island. "The 'noise' one makes is extraordinarily important. We remember people by the sound of their voices, not just by their faces. There's no cut-and-dried scientific way of getting there. I listen all the time. Greek is a very polemical language, with lots of short vowels."

"Dr. Iannis is the sage of the piece, his awareness of the history and of what's happening making him almost a chorus. Though very much a member of his society, he also stands somewhat outside it. The community is religious but he is not. His passions for his daughter, his people and his work are enormous. He recognizes that Corelli is less interested in being a conqueror than in the glories of living."

On filming on the island of Cephallonia, Hurt comments, " I sat and looked at the picture postcard view across the bay and then it drifted across my mind that these very extraordinary things happened really not that long ago, certainly within my lifetime."
The story has many threads but Hurt believes that, in essence, it's about love. "It's not some sentimental or romantic tale, but it is about love, about the fact that if it weren't for love, there'd be no point in living."

Irene Papas As Drosoula

Irene Papas, who plays Drosoula, is John Hurt's equal in terms of experience and stature. One of the great Greek tragediennes of her time, Papas did not have as far a reach as the other actors. Still, she did her homework. "The book describes Drosoula as coming from Asia Minor which is a different culture from the Greek. The people there are very clean and refined, and dress completely differently."

And, like the other actors, Papas admires John Madden. "He cares. Deeply. You know immediately that you are both on the same side. He gives you confidence because you know he sees everything you do. If you make a mistake or fake it, he'll see that, too. You know you can't cheat him, so you do your best."

Christian Bale, who plays Drosoula's son, comments, "She's like a force of nature - singing all the time, making jokes. She just couldn't hold back when she had to berate me in scenes," he laughs, "so I said 'go for it.' I can, today, say I have been slapped, and bitten, by the great Irene Papas."

Christian Bale As Mandras And David Morrissey As Weber

Christian Bale and David Morrissey -- respectively Mandras and Weber -- also make their bows to the director. "He creates an incredible atmosphere for the actor, where you feel protected, can play around, explore and experiment -- somehow he finds time for that," said Morrissey, who has worked with Madden previously. "You also know his instincts are right, so if he comes up to you after a take, or gives you a little note at the end of the day, you trust it."

Bale says he would occasionally spot the director watching a scene, mouthing the words along with the actor. "I find it incredible that he notices every single thing everybody in a scene does, even a word. He really does seem to have a sixth sense."

The role of Mandras, the Greek partisan, is one Christian Bale especially relished. "Of all the characters, he is the one who most symbolizes Greece," he says, with evident pride, "and I was told this constantly by the locals."

As the story opens, Mandras is a fisherman. "He has lived a simple, harmonious way of life, knowing everyone and being known, until the war introduced him to the world outside Cephallonia. What he found would've been confusing to the most sophisticated person, let alone someone who'd led such a simple life."

Bale has no special 'technique' for finding his character. "I do whatever it takes to make me convince myself," he says. For CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN, that meant reading the book ("I like to steal the good bits"), studying the accent, eating Greek food, dancing, and being on Cephallonia. "The rhythm of the place got into me. You cease having the mentality of thinking that you're missing something."

David Morrissey is equally passionate about his incredibly difficult character, Weber, the German officer who comes to love Corelli and the other Italians. Of all the film's leading actors, Morrissey unquestionably did the most research, creating a very detailed geneological back-story for Weber, with the idea it would seep unconsciously into his performance. "Maybe Gunter had to suppress his love of Italian music, for example, so that when he meets Corelli, he just melts. He virtually falls in love with Corelli."

"We must always remember, in historical drama, that the people we're playing didn't have hindsight. Yes, now we know what the Nazis did but not all Nazis themselves necessarily knew or, as with Gunter, were just beginning to get a glimmer."

"We also need to remember what kind of condition Germany was in at the beginning of the Second World War - having been hammered into the ground by the first war, by the depression and other things. Gunter was there as a man at that time. It was important to place him in his time - not comment upon it."

Morrissey imagines that his character, like Albert Speer, Hitler's right hand man, felt unloved, "which made him susceptible to joining any kind of group." Nazism counted on, and consciously fulfilled, that type of need.

'Photograph of bay'The actors participating in the film's scenes of massacre were deeply affected by them - particularly Morrissey as Weber because it is he, their friend, who helps to kill them. "It was exceedingly difficult," says Morrissey. "By that time I'd gotten to know the actors who play the La Scala boys well. We lived near each other and went out frequently at night. They're all good actors; even when they weren't on camera, they projected - and felt - a great sense of solidarity. John set the scene in a bleak location where an actual massacre had happened. The noise the guns make was dreadful. It was hard to get through that scene."

Rebuilding And Re-creating Early ‘40s Cephallonia

Production designer Jim Clay began scouting Cephallonia a full two years before the onset of filming. "Initially, I wasn't aware of its war history or of the incredible atrocities which took place here. After I learned all this, I strongly felt that I wanted to create a world for the film which would strengthen my original impression, and by that I mean my incredulity that in such a beautiful place thousands of men were brutally murdered."

The first challenge was the island's incredible beauty. "Everywhere the eye alights is a picture-postcard image which would've been wrong for this story's tragic dimension," says Clay. "We carefully watched our palette, emphasizing earthy tones and sometimes choosing less verdant locales."

Equally challenging was having to build every set from scratch. An earthquake in 1953 destroyed virtually every structure on the island, leaving nothing intact from the war period. Two primary sets were needed, the most urgent being a harbour which could accommodate the large vessels which were part of the action, and also be bombed. The other important set was the village where all the main characters lived.

Although the story takes place primarily in the capital city of Argostoli, it wasn't possible to film there. Destroyed by the 1953 earthquake, the city was re-built and is today a busy, modern town - unsuitable for a film set nearly 60 years ago

They settled on the smaller town of Sami. "Sami not only has a deep water port but also nearby scenery which is stunning, where we could create our village," said Clay. "Ideally, I wanted to produce a composite set from one topographical locale rather than separate sets scattered in different areas. An audience can sometimes sense that sort of thing and pull away from the film without realizing why."

A solution was found when the production persuaded the owners of Sami's harbour-front hotel, the Kastro, to rent it out for three months to the movie company. The idea was to use its rooms as office and workspace, and Clay would create a set encircling the hotel as a stand-in for Old Argostoli. Fortunately, the hotel was sufficiently distant from restaurants and shops to be destroyed for the German attack on the island.

In designing the town and village, Clay took his architectural inspiration from Corfu, which is Venetian. "I wanted everything on a human scale, with colonnades to provide shade, intimate squares and passageways," he explained. "It's meant to be organic in shape, having grown as the need arose."
Cinematographer John Toll also found the island's beauty a pressing 'problem.' "The look had to be real in order to be believed and effective - not overly sentimental or glossy."

Collaboration among Madden, Toll, Clay and costume designer Alexandra Byrne was exceptionally intense throughout filming. Byrne used personal photo albums for reference and made all of the costumes, even the military uniforms. "Italian costume houses have lots of original stock but the clothes don't fit our big, gym-bound, modern bodies," she said.

A secondary issue was fabric, which in reality would have been faded from the sun. Argostoli residents were fashionably dressed "but the villagers were rather poor and made most of what they wore," explained Byrne, "thus their clothing doesn't fit any particular period." Pelagia's costumes were custom-made for Penelope Cruz "whose movement is very fluid, requiring clothes that weren't restrictive."

The residents of Cephallonia took a keen interest in the film, not only or even primarily because of its favourable economic effect, but because it deals with a very real, and tragic, part of their history. Younger islanders had seen the dwellings re-created for the film only in photographs. But older members of the community found their memories of the war stirred. Their demeanor was grave as they looked at the battleships, tanks and other war accoutrements brought onto the island. Actor David Morrissey will never forget how much he startled some elderly men when he stepped onto the street in his Nazi uniform. Everyone on the film was haunted by the tragic events they were in process of re-creating.

Historical Background On Cephallonia And The War In Greece

The Ionian Islands:
Cephallonia, Corfu, Ithaca, Kythera, Levkas, Paxos, Zakynthos

"If I am a poet, I owe it to the air of Greece," proclaimed Lord Byron in 1823, after a Cephallonian sojourn. The island's rarified air -- its splendour, its agricultural and mineral riches, and its strategic position in the Mediterranean -- have made it a magnet for poets, pirates and a series of conquerors, starting in the second century BC with the Romans.

The island's mythological roots are detailed by Homer in "The Iliad". Cephallonia was part of the kingdom of Odysseus, who built his ships from its fabled fir, sailing twelve of them to Troy filled with 'bighearted Keffalines.'

In recent years the island has enjoyed a very contemporary kind of attention - celebrity - stemming from the success of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. First published in 1994, it touched a vibrant nerve in the British book-reading public, climbing onto best seller lists where it remained for more than three years. It has since been translated into 18 languages.

As a unit, the seven Ionian Islands represent a cultural and historical synthesis unique in the Mediterranean. Although geographically identified as part of the Hellenic archipelago, their modern history is strikingly different from mainland Greece. This is due in part because they were ruled by Venice for over 300 years, and therefore oriented towards the West and Christianity, whereas Greece was subjugated by Turkey's Ottoman Empire which was Islamic.

Cephallonia is the largest and most diverse of the islands and, uniquely, has suffered centuries of relentless seismic activity. The 1953 earthquake reduced it to rubble.

As a British protectorate during much of the 19th Century, Cephallonia's economy soared with new roads, bridges and soil conservation. It and the other Ionians were finally returned to Greece in 1864, from whence time their histories and fates intermingle. Mussolini's disastrous decision to invade Greece in October of 1940 catapulted them into modern history and the terrors of World War II.

Greece And Cephallonia In World War II

As a war in Europe became increasingly inevitable, Greece hoped above all to remain neutral. However, the twin realities of economics and geography made neutrality difficult. To survive, the country needed to continue its long-established trade with various countries on opposite sides of the war, including Germany and Britain. Its islands' strategic position throughout the Mediterranean gave them extraordinary importance to both Allies and Axis

Greece's internal problems exacerbated its dilemma -- an unsteady economy and a fragmented government whose key figure was Ioannis Metaxas. A Cephallonian whom the king appointed prime minister in 1936, Metaxas was an astute politician who did everything in his power to sidestep a confrontation with either side---but he could not control the egomania of Mussolini

Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001)Seeking to bolster his sagging prestige, Mussolini conquered Albania in 1939 and, a year later, invaded Greece. Expecting an easy victory, he suffered instead a humiliating defeat. Greek forces not only held the border but pushed Italian forces well into Albania, causing both Great Britain and Hitler took notice

Some historians speculate that if the Greek forces had confined their effort to holding the Albanian front, Greece might have been left alone, as Hitler hinted. He didn't really want the distraction - and expense - of a skirmish in the Balkans; he only wanted it "neutral" - i.e. clear for his troops to use en route to Russia, whose invasion he was already planning.

Churchill, on the other hand, wanted to enlist Greece in the British/Allied cause and offered troops. Metaxas, convinced that Hitler would not abide a British force on Greek soil, refused the offer.

While the crucial issue was still in debate, Metaxas suddenly died, and the king took contrary advice. A British expeditionary force landed on Greek soil - and Hitler immediately began troop movements. The ill-equipped and exhausted Greek army could not withstand a German assault so the question then became whether to send more British troops. While factions in both Greece and Britain argued the matter, Hitler readied an invasion.

British troops finally did arrive - but too late. On April 6, 1941, Germany launched an attack on Greece and Yugoslavia. Within three weeks, it had driven the British army to the edge of the sea and forced the Greeks to surrender. Conquered Greece was divided among German, Italian and Bulgarian "Zones of Occupation." The Ionian Islands went to Italy.

On April 30, Italian parachutists drifted onto Cephallonia, a few days ahead of boat-laden troops. A cadre of German overseers settled in as well. For the next two years, the three nationalities got along well, their relations undoubtedly facilitated by pleasures of the island and being, at least temporarily, out of harm's way. Many of, the Italian soldiers felt no kinship for Il Duce, and therefore no obligation to crack a whip on his behalf.

But the situation changed radically in the summer of 1943, after Mussolini's government fell, and worsened in September after Italy formally surrendered to the Allies.

Inexplicably, neither Italy nor the Allies prepared Italian outposts on Cephallonia for possible conflict with Germany, their recent former ally. But the ever-shrewd Germans anticipated problems and stealthily brought in reinforcements. They never really trusted the Italians and suspected - correctly - that surplus weaponry would be turned over to Greek resistance fighters. Germany's Colonel Barge instructed General Gandin, the Italian commander, to have his troops turn in their weapons as a condition to repatriation.

While soldiers on other islands obeyed, the Italians on Cephallonia were deeply reluctant to do so, and a handful of men took it upon themselves to sink two German boats. A battle began. For nine bloody days in September, the Italians attempted to stop the Germans but it was a losing game: two battalions of the notorious German Alpine division joined the fray, with air support from Stukka and Messerschmitt fighter planes

Within hours of their surrender, the Italians were rounded up and massacred - reportedly on Hitler's personal orders. The exact number of murdered men will never be known because the Germans hastily covered their tracks and the Italians kept poor records. Bodies were burned in huge bonfires, buried in shallow graves, or thrown into the sea. Between 8,000 and 10,000 men -- at least -- perished. Only 34 are known to have survived by feigning death among the corpses - as does the character of Antonio Corelli in the book and film. These men, along with a few military chaplains who were spared, lived to tell the story.

Memorials to the fallen 'enemy' are found throughout Cephallonia and every citizen, of whatever generation, still speaks about the tragedy.

The La Scala Boys

After a rigorous selection process, 10 young Italian men were chosen for cameo roles as a chorus of singing soldiers under the command of Captain Corelli. The concept comes straight from novelist de Bernières. Buoyantly full of life, they burst into song at the oddest moments with snippets from Puccini and other great Italian composers. They were known as "La Scala", in reference to the world-famous Milanese opera house

The film's La Scala Boys range from newcomers to experienced actor-singer-musicians. Their cinematic odyssey began in Rome where they met with director John Madden and producer Kevin Loader. Sent by agents who told them little more than the type of role they'd be auditioning for -- a soldier -- they were sometimes startled when asked to stand up and sing. Though mystified by the request, young Sandro Stefanini rose to warble Edith Piaf's torch song, "Ne Me Quitte Pas."

Although many of the group were professional musicians, some were not - which was fine. "We didn't want them to sound too trained," explains music director Paul Englishby. "We figured they'd invented their own harmonies for these songs, so they had a rough-edged quality - not too perfect but with lots of energy and verve." The film's Oscar-winning composer, Stephen Warbeck, was so impressed he allowed their choral work to influence his compositional decisions.

Their roles also have an important military component, which lent gravity to the assignment. For the La Scala Boys are meant to represent the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in 1943 on Cephallonia. Though neither the actors -- nor most of their parents --were yet born, they had certainly heard about the war from grandparents and other family members. Mercifully, director John Madden made sure the scenes of their demise were the very last to be filmed before they departed the film company. Though it was make-believe, it was a disturbing, yet sacred moment for them as well as the crew.