Romeo and Juliet is one of William Shakespeare’s most popular plays, and it contains some of his most famous scenes and speeches—the balcony scene and Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech, for example. Some of Shakespeare’s best work is in this play, but not everyone is a fan of Romeo and Juliet. In fact, Romeo and Juliet has plenty of detractors. Though the play boasts beautiful language and vibrant supporting characters, many people do not believe in the love story that is at the heart of the play. Romeo and Juliet are both young and the events of their love story take place in about a week. This is the trickiest thing to overcome in order to make a production of the play successful—you have to make the audience believe that a 13-yearl-old girl and a 17-year-old boy have found true love during the course of a week. Easier said than done, but I believe that the new film adaptation of the play directed by Carlo Carlei does just that.
Romeo and Juliet stars Academy Award nominee Hailee Steinfield (True Grit) and Douglas Booth (Great Expectations) as the star crossed lovers of Renaissance Verona. The success of the movie lies heavily on these two actors, and while their performances are not perfect, they both gave great performances, given their youth. It always annoys me when directors cast 30-year-old actors to play 15-year-old characters, but Hailee Steinfield was only 16 when she filmed the movie, and Douglas Booth was only 21. Steinfield was a very good Juliet. Her performance wasn’t perfect but it was very genuine, and she really makes you believe in Juliet’s love for Romeo. Booth does an even better job of investing the viewer in Romeo’s love for Juliet. He delivers his lines effortlessly, and cries to beautifully he has the entire audience crying with him over Juliet.
The other actors in the movie also help invest the viewers in the love story. Paul Giamatti gives a stellar performance as Friar Laurence (definitely my favorite portrayal of Friar Laurence). He secretly marries Romeo and Juliet, and when Romeo is banished and Juliet engaged to another man, he concocts a plan to allow Romeo and Juliet to be together. He also gives Romeo a good smack on the head when he needs one. Friar Laurence believes in the love between Romeo and Juliet, and more importantly he believes that it can heal the violence between the Capulets and Montagues. And in this adaptation, it does. The movie ends with the two families reconciling after the death of Romeo and Juliet, something that is not in the play. In the end, Romeo and Juliet’s love manages to heal the strife between their families, and Friar Laurence is a part of that. His faith in love and its healing power is so powerful that the reader cannot help but believe in it too. This is truly a great performance by Giamatti.
Other notable performances include Ed Westwick as Tybalt. Tybalt is rarely anyone’s favorite character in the play. In fact, I think he is one of my least favorite characters, though this movie changed that. I was utterly impressed with Westwick’s performance. He is certainly in no threat of being type-casted as Chuck Bass (Gossip Girl) after such an incredible classical performance. Tybalt was angry, quick to fight, and dangerous, but also a truly passionate character in this adaptation of the play.
As with any Shakespeare adaptation, Carlo Carlei’s Romeo and Juliet is not perfect. Written by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, the play is heavily edited. Some parts, like Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech, are stripped down or cut entirely, while other parts are rewritten in more modern English. I did not particularly mind this because it made the language of the play easier to follow for people like me who find Shakespearean English difficult at times. However, it also detracted from some of allure of the play, which is Shakespeare’s beautiful language, and resulted in the reduction of some of the characters whose lines were cut or paragraphed, like Mercutio.
If you’re in the mood to see a tragic story of star-crossed lovers, then I highly recommend Romeo and Juliet. I enjoyed the movie immensely, and it is my favorite film adaptation of the play (better than Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet). Others may disagree that it is the best film adaptation, but it is decidedly an enjoyable production. Set in stunning Verona with beautiful costumes, sweet music, and wonderful actors, Carlo Carlei’s Romeo and Juliet is one for the books.
For another, quite different, take on Romeo and Juliet, check out Jonathan Levine’s adaptation of Isaac Marion’s novel Warm Bodies.