The latest adaption of one of Shakespeare’s most popular tragedies is exactly that – a tragedy. Understandably, Zeffirelli like many others is free to practise creative freedom, but with a play as infamous as this one, scratching the traditional dialogue is a gamble. Still set in the Renaissance period, but with modern speech, it comes across as a current day infatuation taking place in an expensive costume party.
It is also a much more innocent version of the play, as the violence is unconvincing and intimate scenes are clothed and consist mostly of repetitive kisses. This director Carlei explained is because of leading lady Steinfeld being underage. “All nudity and lovemaking have been excised from the script. It will be romantic and age-appropriate for a 14-year-old.” Supposedly projecting a far more romantic love set on good values, as they only spend the night together after being married. So then yes it is a far more teen-friendly version.
That aside, it does still follow the original plot of feuding families. Capulet and Montague are given final warning by the Prince to tolerate one another and live in peace or face death at the mention of another brawl. Tybalt (Ed Westwick) is fuelled with murderous range witnessing an intimate dance between his beloved cousin Juliet (Hailee Steinfield) and son of his enemy Romeo (Doughlas Booth). Romeo attends the Capulet masquerade dinner, upon hearing his crush Roseline will be attending. Uninvited he crashes the party, and falls in love with the one girl he is forbidden to love. They dance and kiss, unaware of the others true identity, and are crushed when names are revealed. The secret lovers quickly arrange meeting with aid from Juliet’s nurse-maid (Lesley Manville) and Romeo’s cousin Benvolio ( Kodi Smit-McPee) and Friar Laurence (Paul Giamatti). Their love quickly blooms and they are married, but soon Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel, to which Mercutio (Christian Cooke) foolishly and boastful accepts on Romeos behalf only to result in his death.
Sadly, the only two performances worth mentioning are that of Manville and Smit-McPee. Everyone else disappoints, making this classic tale very tedious to watch. An overall attractive cast indeed, but it is strange that Romeo is more attractive than Juliet. Not that Steinfeld isn’t pretty, she is, but Booth does steel the photogenic award in this production. And there is a unfortunate lack of romantic chemistry between the two which really spoils the naive passionate love the young characters are meant to display. Also this adaption doesn’t give much screen time to the far more entertaining and favourable characters such as Mecutio and Tybalt. They just boast, moan like spoiled children and die. The overall watching experience is very disruptive, jumping shots that are sometimes unmotivated with lack of honest response from the actors.
Suppose the art department had fun at least. Doing a period piece is always challenging but creatively stimulating, being able to work with so many textures and layers. It is a vividly colourful production.
Bored from the start, relieved at its end, the traditional closing line echoes in my mind; “For never was a story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”