Romeo and Juliet – a step too far?

Two star-crossed lovers meet once again, in the latest Romeo and Juliet remake.


With the essence of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version still looming in its shadows, it seemed like director Carlo Carlei may have had a difficult task in creating an adaptation that distinguishes itself from other reworks of the greatest love story ever told.

The conventional remake of this Shakespeare classic takes a step back in time, familiarising itself with established adaptations such as the original by Zeffirelli in 1968.

In the setting of Fair Verona, the cast enjoy an ensemble of doublet and hose reminiscent of the productions that many students find themselves all too familiar with.  Yet screenwriter Julian Fellowes takes a brave approach to the script by adapting the bardspeak into his own invented traditional style.

The subtle tweaks are unnoticeable to the novice ear, but they question the authenticity of what seems to be, in all other areas, a rather faithful adaptation.  Perhaps the main problem is that the production is consistently compared to Luhrmann’s Oscar-nominated remake, which ventured into the suburbs of Verona Beach combining authentic Shakespearian language with a hip-hop edge.

On top of this, Leonardo DiCaprio is the kind of talented, attractive eye candy who can only be described, in all senses, as the perfect Romeo. Douglas Booth, to his credit, gave the role a good effort, undeniably hunky and easy on the eye. But realistically, could he ever have stood a chance against his predecessor?

On the other hand, Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld) seemed to a lack an air of enthusiasm, and gave a rather feeble performance for what should have been a rather resilient and feisty Juliet.

A positive, however, comes in the form of Lesley Manville, who plays a jittery, jocular nurse adding a sense of light-heartedness to the mainly downbeat and depressing storyline. Her performance is complemented by Paul Giamatti, who provides an authentic performance of Friar Laurence.

Both of these actors particularly benefit the cast by establishing a sense of reality for a stereotypical Shakespeare production.  Damian Lewis’s performance, on the other hand, is rather questionable. In places he provides a well asserted, strict Lord Capulet.  However, this was unfortunately suppressed by his inability to maintain a long-lasting, hard-hitting approach as Juliet’s father.

Overall, I can only describe this as a ‘not bad’ adaptation. There are moments of excitement and anticipation, for which the credit really belongs to Shakespeare’s original play.  However, these brief, enjoyable moments are unfortunately overcast with flaws such as poor casting and performance.  And as Carlei goes back to basics, it is difficult as a viewer to be excited over such an easily anticipated script.

Perhaps the main issue lies in the question of whether there was ever actually a purpose for this adaptation to come to the screens, as it could only ever be compared to its favourable forerunners.