˜Never was there a story of more woe’ than the new Romeo and Juliet. Expecting a passionate whirlwind of tragedy, love and desire, I’m afraid to say that Julian Fellowes’ adaptation was anything but. Instead I watched a cheapened, dumbed down, version that failed to inspire a generation with the greatest love story in the English Language.
It doesn’t help when your Romeo (Douglas Booth) can only cry from one eye (he only musters a few trickles from his right eye, even when he discovers Juliet dead), can’t horse ride and struggles to run without looking ridiculous instead of chivalrous. Hailee Steinfield as Juliet manages to massacre Shakespeare’s lines, reciting at a thousand miles per hour. Her balcony speech, which should have been filled with anticipation and excitement (considering she has just met the love of her life), was more like a competition for who could say their lines in the shortest amount of time with the blankest expression. I’m bewildered as to what director Carlo Carlei was looking for in his title roles, because he seems to have missed the mark of a pair of ˜star-crossed lovers’ and settled for two individuals acting out a forced relationship. The film lacked the exhilaration a first love brings, and consequently you couldn’t believe that Steinfield and Booth were lovers. Instead of sparking a tumultuous outpouring of injustice and heartbreak at their sacrificial demise, you wanted to shake Juliet by the shoulders and say, don’t worry you’ll get over him in a week or two, go and marry Count Paris like your parents wanted.
Apparently the film’s intention was to make Shakespeare accessible to the younger generation. I completely understand, and even applaud; the desire to make Shakespeare appreciated by youngsters, but if that was the case, why set it in traditional Verona? Why not, as Baz Luhrmann did in 1996, recreate the story in a contemporary setting? And instead of chopping and simplifying the language, why not hire better actors that can portray the catastrophic core of the story? Carlei and Fellowes fail to give their audience a chance to be able to understand a Shakespeare text in all its glory.
What saves Romeo and Juliet; from complete disaster are the performances of the supporting cast. Ed Westwick is a formidable Tybalt, encapsulating the feud between the two families. He contrasts brilliantly with the mischievous and loveable Mercutio. Unfortunately due to the script Mercutio isn’t given much screen time, and the light relief he occasionally brings to the story is lost. Arguably Mercutio has the greatest death speech in the play. Harold Perrineau in the 1996 adaptation was both wonderfully tragic and humorous, however when Christian Cooke meets the same fate, he is barely allowed to whisper ˜a plague on both your houses’ before Romeo stumbles after Tybalt. Paul Giamatti as Friar Lawrence was perfect. His discovery of Romeo and Juliet dead together is the most convincing display of emotion in the entire film.