The most dangerous love story ever told.
I’m just going to start this by admitting that I’ve read this play roughly 4 times (and nearly all of that because of schoolwork) and that, while the story does seem romantic at times, Romeo and Juliet are kind of idiots. I love the story, but you can tell they’re just kids making dumb decisions. Ok? On with it.
Do I really need to break down the plot for this? Please tell me I don’t.
Ok. We’ll start with the good. First of all, the settings/set design for this movie is fabulous. This is something I generally don’t pay attention to, but my God, it was all stunning. I think it’s partly because it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the 60s version of this movie and more historically accurate than the Baz Luhrmann version. It was striking. It was beautiful.
Also, this was adapted/written by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame and it shows. This is the only version I can think of where characters like the Nurse and Friar Lawrence (called “Father” Lawrence in this movie) have a real chance to shine. Most movies cut them out to give our main kiddos more love scenes. But it was just fantastic to see the more minor characters (even Lord and Lady Capulet!) step a little further into the light.
I thought that the casting was also excellent. I really liked Hailee Steinfeld’s performance as Juliet (though I have seen other reviews that said she wasn’t pretty enough? I though she was pretty. And besides, Juliet’s only supposed to be like 13 and trust me, 13-year-olds have not grown into their looks). And Douglas Booth was great as Romeo, though I admittedly spent more time looking at his cheek/jaw bones rather than actually paying attention to his acting. That boy has a very pretty face.
But the most surprising casting choices that soared were those of Lord Capulet, Father Lawrence, and Nurse. Damian Lewis brings a light-hearted attitude to Lord Capulet that does occasionally turn dangerous. But it’s perhaps the first portrayal of Lord Capulet where I really felt like he loved his daughter. Nurse (played by Lesley Manville) was funny and charming and caring. I loved that she had a bigger role than usual. And Paul Giamatti as Father Lawrence…who would’ve thought that would work? Giamatti brought to the role this quick wit, hope, and just enough shifty-eyed attitude to make him seem like he’s always scheming up something.
Even through all of this, there were some things that were…well, not what I expected.
For example, there is very little Shakespearean dialogue in this movie. A lot of it that is here comes from the most famous lines. The balcony scene. The chorus introduction. The death scene. And a few random lines between here and there that are famous.
And some of the scenes were changed. Like how the whole movie starts off out a jousting match between Tybalt and Mercutio. Here I was quoting along with the chorus in the first two minutes of the movie before I had to stop and figure out exactly what was happening. A joust? Really? Admittedly, the movie is usually quite close to the play, but there are definitely striking differences at crop up.
So to sum up: great casting and set design, little of Shakespeare’s actual words. But hey, there are also some pretty kicking sword fights. I guess that makes up for something?