Romeo and Juliet Review
Romeo and Juliet (1968) is a film adaptation of the beloved play by William Shakespeare. The production is known for going against the tradition of hiring older actors to play the young lovers, with the assumption that young people could not do the parts justice. Instead, Franco Zeffirelli chose to cast Olivia Hussey, then just fifteen, and Leonard Whiting, seventeen, opting for naturalism. The choice really adds to the film, making the story of thwarted young love much more believable. Romeo and Juliet was also filmed in a selection of locations in Italy which lends the production a sense of history which a stage simply cannot provide.
Tybalt and the Capulets
For those unfamiliar with the play, the story follows the younger generation of two warring houses, Montague and Capulet. Romeo is a Montague and Juliet is a Capulet. By chance, they meet at a party given by her father and fall in love. Their short courtship is made up of stolen moments as they must keep their relationship secret for fear of what their families might do. Fate conspires to keep them apart as the conflict between their houses grows worse forcing them to take drastic measures to stay together.
‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’
Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is considered by many to be the definitive film version of the play. And it is easy to see why. There is a grandeur to the production that shines through in the music, costumes, locations and passion of the actors. While it is true that aspects of the film can appear dated, especially in the sound quality which appears to have been recorded after the fact in many places, overall, this is not too distracting. The brilliant score by Nino Rota helps here, an extremely romantic accompaniment to the play’s action. I have an especial fondness for the haunting song ‘What is a Youth’ which plays during Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting.
The balcony scene
Hussey and Whiting are passionate and believable as the titular star-crossed lovers. A young but no less good John McEnery plays Mercutio with just the right balance of madness and wisdom. Pat Heyward is funny and warm as the Nurse. Michael York makes a perfect hot-headed yet aloof Tybalt. Robert Stephens (father of Toby Stephens) is excellent in his few scenes as the Prince.
The Nurse brings a message
Juliet begs for help from Friar Lawrence
The script plays to the young actors’ strengths so some of the longer speeches have been cut. There are also scenes left out for the sake of time such as the fight with Paris and the apothecary scene. These absences are noticeable to someone familiar with the play’s text and perhaps even irritating but the heart of the play is definitely there. Of all the adaptations I’ve seen on the stage and on screen, this is the version that stays with me. It is the version I associate most with the text. It holds up quite well and if you have yet to see it and are fond of the play then you will likely enjoy it.
Photo Credit: Paramount
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