Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld play the star-crossed lovers in Carlo Carlei’s sweeping interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, adapted for the screen by Julian Fellowes, award-winning creator of Downton Abbey.
Romeo (Booth) and Juliet (Steinfeld) are the youngest children of the Montague and Capulet clans, who have been sworn enemies for decades.
Despite the rivalry between their parents, the youngsters fall madly in love and marry in secret with the help of Romeo’s friend, Friar Laurence (Paul Giamatti).
Their happiness is cut short when Juliet’s brother Tybalt (Ed Westwick) fatally wounds Romeo’s loyal servant Mercutio (Christian Cooke), and Romeo - wishing to avenge his dear friend’s memory - kills the murderous Capulet, thereby re-igniting the bitter war of words between the two dynasties.
Romeo is banished to Mantua for his actions and Juliet is told that she will marry a respectable young suitor, Paris (Tom Wisdom).
Plunged into despair, Juliet seeks advice from the Friar and he advises her to drink a magic potion that will make it look as if she has died. The Friar will then send for Romeo, tell him of their cunning ruse, and the couple will be re-united just as Juliet awakes from her sleep. At least, that’s the plan...
This classic recounting of possibly the most famous love story of all time eschews the modern trend for transporting the bard’s work into more contemporary settings a la Baz Luhrman’s 1996 version of Romeo and Juliet or Ralph Fiennes 2011 take on Coriolanus..
Carlo Carlei’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet opts for the traditional setting of Renaissance Italy and was actually the first film version of the play to be shot in the Bard’s original locations, Verona and Mantua.
Although there is a nod to the traditional roots of Shakespeare’s work, this big screen version attempts to be more accessible to a modern audience, forgoing the traditional iambic pentameter rhythms of dialogue in favour of a more natural flow and some judicious script additions from Fellowes.
The choice of young female lead Hailee Steinfeld (who was just 15 when filming began in 2012) is bound to draw comparisons to Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version which cast a 16-year-old Olivia Hussey as Juliet, but Steinfeld has made this role very much her own.
With a courage and conviction that draws from her Oscar-nominated performance in 2010’s tough Western, True Grit and her recent turn as a sci-fi military cadet in 2013’s Ender’s Game, Steinfeld gives a seemingly fearless performance that belies her age.