Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is one of William Shakespeare’s most accessible and best-loved plays, so it is not surprising that it has inspired many film and TV adaptations, perhaps more than any other play in history. The most noteworthy are Franco Zeffirelli's “definitive” 1968 version, and Baz Luhrmann's popular 1996 MTV fever-dream version; not to mention Jerome Robbins’ stage musical West Side Story and its iconic film by Robert Wise. In such grand company, the latest movie version from Italian TV director Carlo Carlei seems a bit anemic, though I still found it enjoyable. Like the Zeffirelli version, this Romeo and Juliet is set in Renaissance Verona and uses young actors of roughly the same age as the characters in the principal roles, but unlike most Shakespeare adaptations, this picture does not use the play’s original text. Instead, the ubiquitous British writer Julian Fellows (Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, The Young Victoria) has crafted a screenplay that blends the Bard’s Victorian language with a stylized vernacular. With only a few egregious exceptions, this approach works surprisingly well.

As someone who prefers Shakespearian productions set where the plays actually take place (rather than transposed to some other time and location), I am perhaps in the minority.   Hearing modern language in a period setting is not strange to me, since that is what we hear in most every period film, but hearing Victorian language in a contemporary milieu can be very distracting if not done well--and hearing location specific references while in environments where they make no sense really takes me out of a film.  I enjoyed the modest setting of this picture and much of the cast--though Romeo (newcomer Douglas Booth) and Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld, the girl at the center of The Coen Brother’s True Grit) themselves lack any real passion. Fellows’ screenplay retains enough of Shakespeare’s best dialogue to entrance, but sadly Carlei shoots it all much too rapidly. Not in the tired, quick-cut, shaky-cam style, but in an unnecessarily hurried fashion that zips past lines and entire scenes that should be savored. Clearly this film is more interested in being a young person’s introduction to Shakespeare than a Shakespeare film for the ages. If the goal here is not to bore the audience, it succeeds well enough, but uninspired movies can be as forgettable as over-long ones. In love and filmmaking, too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.
Directed by Carlo Carlei
Produced by Julian Fellowes, Simon Bosanquet, Lawrence Elman, Alexander Koll, Ileen Maisel, Doug Mankoff, Andrew Spaulding, Nadja Swarovski, and Dimitra Tsingou

Screenplay by Julian Fellowes
Based on the play by William Shakespeare

With: Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Damian Lewis, Laura Morante, Tomas Arana, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Tom Wisdom, Ed Westwick, Lesley Manville, Christian Cooke, Leon Vitali, and Paul Giamatti

Cinematography: David Tattersall
Editing: Peter Honess
Music: Abel Korzeniowski

Runtime: 118 min
Release Date: 11 October 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1