Sunday, 27 December 2015

Romeo and Juliet (2013)

This most recent adaptation of Shakespeare's oft-told tale was the big Christmas Day matinee on BBC2. Watching it today, I'm wondering why they bothered. Was yet another version truly needed? Director Carlo Carlei and writer/producer Lord Snooty...I mean, Julian Fellowes, he of Downright Shabby...I mean, Downton Abbey, seem to think so. Opting not for a modern day retelling a'la Baz Luhrmann (which wouldn't really work nowadays; in the final reel, on hearing from Benvolio that Romeo is full of woe by his love's side, we would have to endure the Friar commenting "Wait; didn't he get my text?") they return the narrative to the correct time period and the very streets of Verona Shakespeare set his play upon. Fair enough, but the proceedings have more than air of 'why bother?' when Zeffirelli's already been there. 

Then again, maybe they're hoping to spare teenage English students everywhere who, like me, had to watch the 1968 classic alongside their teacher. It was embarrassing enough to see Olivia Hussey bare her breasts for the classroom, but it was downright strange (though perhaps understandable) to have the teacher than confide with us the fervent crush that scene brought about when he first saw it and how, just like Morrissey once sang, there's a light that never goes out.

Hailee Steinfeld is no Olivia Hussey. So promising in the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit, she's hopelessly adrift here. She seems to have learnt her script like a non-English speaker would - phonetically. As such, she delivers the text with a rushed delivery that suggests she holds a distinctly unsure grasp on much of what she is expected to say. Douglas Booth has a better stab at Romeo, but this is more like a case of miscast lovers, rather than starcrossed ones. It's perhaps fair to say that several of the young bucks of Verona are cast more for their glamour and attractiveness than their acting chops. Ed Westwick's Tibalt is especially risible, and very 21st century, whilst Christian Cooke - a perfectly good actor in many other productions - fails to invest any of the spark required for Mercutio and singularly fritters away any of the double meaning inherent in his final speech. Thankfully the older supporting cast, through experience, deliver greater promise; most notably Damien Lewis as Lord Capulet and Lesley Manville as the clucking nurse. Paul Giamatti also pleases as the Friar, and his stunned grief is especially affecting.

In summary, this looks good but is quite disposable. Maybe the schools curriculum will opt for this over Zeff's 1968 offering, but I can't imagine an improvement in pupils attention span, interest or grades if they do.


  1. I don't think anybody bothered with this on its release, I didnt even want to see it on tv - the Zeffireli film had the look, and the Baz one had the action. It was a stupid idea to try and mondernise Shakespeare for today's teens, who took no notice. Booth - with those cheekbones one could grate cheese on - was the first to die in the current Beeb retelling of Christie's And Then There Were None - dragged out to 3 hours with the life sucked out of it, they know their audience though: Mr Poldark was stripped again!

    1. For completist sake I watched, that and the fact that yesterday afternoon was a bit of a Bard marathon (I'd done Branagh's As You Like It, immediately before it) but it's incredibly forgettable.

      I'm actually enjoying And Then There Were None. It's not brilliant, but its passable Christmas fare. And I said exactly the same thing re the shirtless Aiden Turner! I imagine the Bond people are sitting up and taking notice now too...

      I have to say though, the beeb are overdoing the murder this Christmas; And Then There Were None, Dickensian, Sherlock...and no doubt someone will have been bumped off in EastEnders. It's a bit overkill, quite literally!