FILM: Romeo and Juliet (PG)

The big screen swoons to a classic adaptation of Romeo And Juliet for the first time in over 40 years.

Like Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film, Carlo Carlei’s version features actors similar in age to the teenage star-crossed lovers depicted in Shakespeare’s tragedy.

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet

Hailee Steinfeld, who was Oscar nominated in 2011 for True Grit, was 15 when she made the movie, while Douglas Booth was 19.

There’s no denying the beautiful Booth is physically perfect for the role of romantic hero Romeo but he seems a little out of depth. The facial expression he makes upon spying Juliet for the first time is am-dram territory. Steinfeld, on the other hand, seems at ease with the dialogue and brings strength to a complex role.

Undoubtedly there will be an outcry from purists regarding Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes’s screenplay. In Booth’s own words “80% of it is the real Shakespeare, and 20% is Julian’s adaptation.”

In the writer’s defence, this is born of practical necessity (else the movie would be over three hours long) as well as a desire to appeal to younger audiences. You have to wonder if teenage audiences will be moved though.

Romeo (Booth) and Juliet (Steinfeld) are the youngest children of the Montague and Capulet clans, who are sworn enemies. Despite the rivalry, the teenagers fall madly in love.

Their happiness is cut short when Juliet’s brother Tybalt (Gossip Girl’s ever-pouting Ed Westwick) fatally wounds Romeo’s loyal servant, Mercutio (Christian Cooke). In retaliation, Romeo kills the murderous Capulet and re-ignites the bitter war of words between the two dynasties. Romeo is banished to Mantua for his actions and Juliet is told that she will marry a respectable young suitor, Paris (Tom Wisdom). Plunged into despair, Juliet seeks advice from Friar Laurence (Paul Giamatti) so that she and Romeo might be reunited despite the bad blood that flows between their two clans.

As sumptuous as the traditional setting and costumes are, this Romeo & Juliet looks a little quaint in comparison to Baz Luhrmann’s visceral 1996 adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. The sword fight between Romeo and Tybalt lacks tension or drama, a feeling that runs throughout the entire film and leaves you emotionally indifferent. Tears should be shed at the climactic moment the two lovers perish, but as stunning as it looks, their farewell is a damp squib.

Gung-ho performances from veteran actors including Giamatti, Damian Lewis as Lord Capulet and Lesley Manville as Nurse sadly can’t spark the film back to life.

Romeo And Juliet is supposedly one of Shakespeare’s “black” plays which always turns a profit, but on this occasion, that remains to be seen.


Released: October 11 (UK & Ireland), 118 mins