Friday, 11 June 2010

Romeo & Juliet

“For never was a story of more woe. Than this of Juliet and her Romeo”

Arguably the greatest love story ever told; the tragic lives of Romeo and Juliet are famous across the world. I don’t need to explain the story as everybody knows it.
The movie version I will discuss in this review is the 1996 Romeo + Juliet directed by Baz Luhrmann which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the title roles.
Romeo + Juliet was originally written sometime in the mid 16th century by William Shakespeare however this version is set in modern times in the fictional town of Verona Beach, Florida. Despite the new setting the story is not interfered with too much which greatly surprised me.
Luhrmann and his screenplay writers must have gone to great trouble to ensure Shakespeare’s original play was recreated as faithfully as possible. Obviously some changes had to be made but I feel they added a modern appeal to the movie that others lack. Some of the changes are obvious; Instead of swords and bucklers the characters carry guns. Instead of riding horses they drive cars. The film is heavily stylised and visually very impressive. The music is stunning and really helps bring the story to life.

One of the most surprising aspects of the movie for me is the dialogue. To my mind it would be common sense that since the entire setting of the story was moved forward a few hundred years surely the dialogue would be modern too? Not a bit of it. Shakespeare’s words remain in the movie and although they are alerted at times they have largely remained faithful. It takes a bit of getting used to but it really does work very well and is worth persevering with.
The acting is fantastic, DiCaprio and Danes are very convincing as the star crossed lovers and really seemed to put everything into their performances. The supporting roles are just as good with convincing and emotive performances from John Leguizamo as the hot blooded Tybalt, Harold Perrineau as the facetious, fun loving Mercutio, British legend Pete Postlethwaite as Father Lawrence and Paul Sorvino as Fulgencio Capulet.

It is also rare for a romance story as it has elements for both a male and female audience. Not only is it a story of love and passion but it also covers the darker side of love; hate, jealousy and deceit. The confrontations between the Montagues and Capulets are truly electrifying. There is also a good amount of humour, one of my favourite scenes being the opening confrontation between the Montague and Capulet families at a gas station.

Some aspects from the play are left out of the film such as the death of Paris and Lady Montague and Juliet not trusting Father Lawrence not to poison her but I do not feel these were central points in the story as a whole anyway.

I bought a copy of Romeo and Juliet from a bookshop in Verona itself as I felt that would be special. I am a romantic sort really although I am aware the story is a work of fiction and didn’t truly happen (at least not the way Shakespeare wrote about)
I had never actually sat down and read the book before; I never studied it in school although I knew what the story was about.

The story is a masterpiece and should be taught in every school. Because it was written by Shakespeare to be performed on stage by actors it would not necessarily be easy for someone who hadn’t seen it in play form or on television to visualise the story. Because it was written as a play there are no descriptions of background, clothing or general appearance, just words spoken by each character, basic actions (such as ‘they fight’ or ‘Romeo exits’) the rest is left to the imagination.

If I had just picked up the book without having seen the film I would probably not have enjoyed it so much. The words are beautiful and meaningful even now although they do require some translation nowadays.

The version I bought had notes inside which explained certain words and sayings which I never would have guessed (I never knew ‘French slop’ meant ‘baggy trousers’!) without the notes the full meaning of entire pages would have been lost to me.
This story is timeless and both the book and movie are well worth seeing even for grumpy blokes like me!

Final verdict 5/5 for both movie and book

By Chris


  1. This is one of my favorites - moviewise. But I am an unabashed fan of Baz Luhrmann. I love how he transports his audience in most of his films. There is always a scene where the viewer feels literally sucked in (like through a vortex) to the world he has created. I thought this was a wonderful adaptation of Shakespear's play. Have you seen the Kenneth Branaugh version of Hamlet? It is a revelation!

  2. I love, love, love this movie. I really enjoyed the book when I read it for school, but watching the movie really solidified my eternal love for this story :) I'm glad you liked it!

  3. I really enjoyed this movie, although my mom tried to ruin it for me by rolling her eyes through most of it. I dont' think she approved of the modernizations. ;)

  4. I enjoyed the movie too though I think I watched it a few years ago. I have the DVD and since you've written this post, I might just as well watch it again soon!

    Well-written review of the show (and the story)! :) The book/story is indeed timeless.

  5. Do you know I have never read a book or watched a film/theatre production of this. To be honest I'm not a huge fan of Shakespeare but I do quite like his 'comedies', perhaps I shall give Romeo & Juliet another try - your post has inspired me somewhat.

  6. @ Leah: This was the first Baz Luhrmann film i've seen although i've heard some of his music. If this film is anything to go by his other movies must be impressive. I've not seen 'Hamlet' but I've heard its something like 4 hours long so although I will see it it probably won't be for a while! lol

    @ Anna: It really is a great story, i'm sure people will still be enjoying it for generations to come.

    @ Kathy: I guess for some people you can't improve on perfection but I really feel the film worked well and helps introduce Shakespeare to a younger generation and I think the movie is respectful to the original but I can see how a die hard Shakespeare fan might not like it so much

    @ Josette: I'm glad you liked the review and it made you want to watch it again. I've been re-watching it a few times myself lately.

    @ Petty: I never used to appreciate Shakespeare either. When I was younger I thought his plays were boring and I didn't have the patience to try and understand what he wrote but after I saw Romeo + Juliet on DVD I saw Shakespeare in a different light. I am currently reading his plays and it is my intention to finish all of them eventually.

  7. I admit, I'm not a fan of Romeo and Juliet. Anthony and Cleopatra is the love story/tragedy I prefer. But I may break down next year and use R&J with my 7th graders, I usually have a few who practically beg me to use it. I have not seen this particular movie version. Is it too much for 7th grade, or rather is it too much for 7th grade parents?

  8. @ C.B James: To be honest since i'm from the UK i'm not sure what a 7th grader is! Romeo + Juliet is rated a 12. There is no bad language and very little violence. I hope you do decide to show it in class. Its worth giving it a chance :o)

  9. Hey there, I have an award for you guys!

  10. The film is a masterpiece - we love it at Gaskell Towers. The Shakespeare text fits so well with the gang-culture it depicts.

  11. I am a Shakespeare fan and I love this movie. I saw it in the theatre and bawled my eyes out. I LOVED that they stayed true to the language. The juxtaposition with the modern setting was fantastic.
    My favorite shakespearean play is Midsummer Night's Dream. It is quite whimsical and comical. It has fairies. There are a few movie versions. The one with Michelle Pfeiffer is pretty good if I recall correctly. Also, Midsummer is an excellent one to see on stage.