Romeo and Juliet

Movie Review #791: Zeffirelli’s adaptation transcends the play completely, taking Shakespeare to a whole new level of depth and power.

★★★★
By Red Stewart
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Drama, Romance
Rated PG (contains sexual content, partial nudity)
138 minutes

I read Romeo and Juliet in my freshman year of high school as a requirement for Honors English 1, and I honestly couldn’t understand why it was so praised as a classic love story. The romance between the two leads was poorly developed, the ending felt forced, and the only character I truly liked was Mercutio. In our modern-day context, we often use the word Romeo synonymously with a passionate male valentine, but in this play the character came off as a sad sob dragging an innocent girl to her death.

But all that doesn’t matter in Franco Zeffirelli’s wondrous adaptation, which adds personality, emotions, and most importantly depth to these characters. The strange thing is, the 1968 version literally adapts the play word-for-word in the vein of Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” or Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen”, yet fixes all the faults present in it. These young, star-crossed lovers are believable and rich with zeal , due in no small part to the performances of Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Their age, chemistry, and perfect delivery of Shakespeare’s dialogue make it almost a miracle that they were found. I’m certainly not trying to diminish the supporting cast who also do a great job (in particular the performances of Pat Heywood and John McEnery as the Nurse and Mercutio respectively), but the film rests primarily on its titular characters and they carry the weight with pride.

The music, orchestrated by “The Godfather”’s Nino Rota, is a classical score that becomes tragic, dramatic, and comedic when it needs to be. Alongside that, the architecture in every scene brings out the settings in pristine condition, though in retrospect both these aspects do lend the film a more periodic, old-timey feel that may make it feel dated to some. However, that’s honestly the only real problem I have with the movie. Zeffirelli’s direction may not be as whimsical as Kenneth Branagh’s in “Much Ado About Nothing”, but it works great for what the film is going for. I believe even non-fans of Shakespeare may find something to enjoy in this adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet”. ✴

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