Captain Corelli's Mandolin | 2001
Louis de Bernières’ novel, brought to the screen by John Madden, the director of the Oscar-winning Shakespeare In Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, was filmed in the novel’s authentic setting – the island of Cephalonia (Kefalonia), largest of the Ionian Islands, off the western coast of Greece.
The island is as dazzlingly beautiful as the film suggests but location fans may be a tad disappointed to find that there’s little recognisable from on screen. Much of the film was made on elaborate sets which, although built on-site, were dismantled immediately afterwards.
The setting is the town of Argostóli, the island’s capital on the western coast of the island.
Cephalonia was once owned by Venice and the town was famed for its Venetian-style architecture. In 1953, well after the WWII setting of the film, a disastrous earthquake hit the island and destroyed most of Argostóli, as well as causing terrible loss of life.
For the film, the town was recreated over on the east coast at the port of Sámi. Everything you see of the seafront town was built for the production – the Venetian-style colonnade, the bell-tower, the square and the town hall – covering more modern structures. The Kastro Hotel all but disappeared behind the colonnade façade.
The ‘town square’, which the plot required to be blown up, was built just behind the Kastro. Since wood and plaster don’t collapse in the same way as stone, these sets had to be dismantled and rebuilt in a convincingly bomb-damaged state.
The film opens and closes with the ‘Feast of St Gerasimos’, the patron saint of the island. His mummified body is indeed taken in its silver casket from the Monastery of Agios Gerasimos, Omala in the heart of the Cephalonia, on August 16th and passed in procession over the prostrate bodies of the sick, who lie down along the route.
These scenes were filmed at the ruined monastery of Agios Fanentes – a protected archaeological site on a promontory above Sámi. The 11th Century monastery, with its medieval architecture and Byzantine frescoes, continued to function right up until the 1953 earthquake. You can reach it through a path through the ancient Acropolis, immediately east of Sámi.
When Captain Corelli (Nicolas Cage) and the Italian army arrive, the soldiers set up their tents at Antísamos (Andosamis) Beach, a couple of miles east of Sámi on the other side of the peninsula.
It’s way up on the northern coast, though, to find the beautiful beach at which German officer Captain Weber (David Morrissey) tries to make friends with the Italians as they cavort with local women. Myrtos Beach, a mile-and-a-half arc of dazzling white pebbles cutting deep into sheer cliffs, is regarded as the most beautiful – and the most famous – beach on the island. It’s here, too, that the WWI mine is washed up and detonated as the islanders watch.
Between Sámi and Antísamos Beach, are the ruins of Dichalia, which is where the village and the doctor’s house were built.
Another, more substantial, ruined village was used for the partisans’ hideout, where Corelli is taken to meet Mandras (Christian Bale), and where the shocking machine-gun massacre is staged.
It was he village of Old Vlachata, just outside of Karavomilos, another casualty of the 1953 ‘quake. Karavomilos itself is less than a mile west of Sámi.
The south of the island is dominated by its highest point, Mount Énos, and it’s on the mountain’s northern slopes that the Italians are ambushed by the German army and ordered to surrender their weapons.
You can reach Cephalonia by ferry from Patras or Kyllini on the mainland, or by charter flight from Athens.