Romeo and Juliet (PG)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner09/10/2013

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 118 mins

The latest version of Romeo and Juliet is watchable, well-acted and gains points for its locational veracity, but Fellowes' script takes some shocking liberties with Shakespeare's original that won't endear the film to literature students.

What's it all about?
Directed by Carlo Carlei and adapted by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey), Romeo and Juliet is set in 15th century Verona where warring families the Montagues and the Capulets are warned by the Prince (Stellan Skarsgard) that any public fighting will be punishable by death. Later, Montague's son Romeo (Douglas Booth) secretly attends a masked ball held by Lord Capulet (Damian Lewis) and falls head over heels for Capulet's daughter Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld).

When Juliet returns Romeo's love, the pair make plans to marry in secret, aided by Friar Laurence (Paul Giamatti) and Juliet's nurse (Lesley Manville). However, when fiery-tempered Capulet Tybalt (Ed Westwick) attacks and kills Romeo's friend Mercutio (Christian Cooke), Romeo is compelled to avenge his friend, which results in his exile from the city.

The Good
Any production of Romeo and Juliet stands or falls on the chemistry between its two leads and thankfully, that magic ingredient is present and correct here, with both Booth (TV's Great Expectations) and True Grit's Steinfeld looking appropriately gorgeous and making believable goo-goo eyes at each other, even if she seems to have a little more trouble with the lines than he does. There's also strong work from Westwick as Tybalt, Cooke as Mercutio and Manville as the nurse, but the supporting honours firmly belong to Giamatti, who has more fun with the part of Friar Laurence than you might have believed possible and duly steals every scene.

Any contemporary re-staging of Romeo and Juliet would struggle to top Baz Luhrmann's version, so Carlei and Fellowes wisely opt to keep the original setting, shooting on location in Verona itself (and a number of other Italian cities) for added authenticity. The effect of this is further heightened by David Tattersall's skilful camerawork and a suitably romantic score by Abel Korzeniowski.

The Bad
The main problem with the film (aside from some hilariously awful screen running from Booth and Westwick) is that Fellowes has essentially rewritten vast chunks of Shakespeare's original text, presumably in an attempt to make it more understandable to the multiplex crowd - to be fair, he's done an excellent job, since the language still sounds authentic, but it has been significantly dumbed down - a bastardised Bard, if you will, and one that is unlikely to endear the film to literature students and Shakespeare scholars alike. What's worse is that Fellowes has added little scenes and moments of his own, though that might at least have the positive effect of making audiences read through the original to check what's there and what isn't.

Worth seeing?
This is a watchable and well-acted production of Romeo and Juliet, but Fellowes has rewritten the dialogue so extensively that Shakespeare would probably ask to have his name removed from the credits.

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Content updated: 17/10/2017 15:52

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