Romeo and Juliet

Oct 12, 2013

Those young lovers are at it again, lamely.

Romeo and Juliet

Grade: C-

Director: Carlo Carlei (Fluke)

Screenplay: Julian Fellowes (The Tourist)

Cast: Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit). Douglas Booth (LOL)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 118 min.

by John DeSando

“For never was a story of more woe/Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Count Paris (Tom Wisdom)

The “woe” in this umpteenth adaptation of Romeo and Juliet over the last 400 years is that the titular lass, as played by Hailee Steinfeld, is weakly acted with immaturity, poor elocution, and disappointing physical presence. Add to that another woe: Douglas Booth’s Romeo is prettier than Steinfeld with only slightly better articulation.

So, the outdoor production I saw this summer outflanked director Carlo Carlei’s uneven take. However, for sets and cinematography, his production is beautiful, having been lovingly filmed in Verona and Mantua. The ancient estates are effective as horses race past old bricked walls and lovely ladies act beneath frescoes and columns that boast of nobility. Yet, that ancient beauty seems almost artificial so pristine it appears.

Yet the real reason to see this new production is Paul Giamatti’s Friar Laurence, a benign manipulator undone by forces beyond his control.  Giamatti’s range from sweet confessor and cupid to perplexed operative is masterful.  Look for his Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.  

Lesley Manville as the Nurse is second only to Giamatti, a loving servant with a twinkle and a deep understanding of the lethal games. In fact, most of the supporting players such as Damian Lewis’s Lord Capulet are welcome pros next to the amateurish leads.

The film, while featuring the besieged friar, also highlights the egregiously intense hormonal urges of young men: Tybalt (Ed Westwick) and Mercutio (Christian Cooke) have the feral ferocity of doomed warriors. Even the more placid Count Paris is waiting to let his inner soldier take over in the revenge category. Mostly, though, the players go over the top.

Writer Julian Fellowes bastardizes some of Shakespeare’s glorious dialogue (why would anyone try to improve on the best?) and even adds rogue lines, albeit in the Elizabethan mode, such as “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  Or consider the non-poetic modernizations when Lady Capulet says, " See if you can be happy with him." Or the Nurse: " I must say you have good taste in men." Finally one of my favorite idiotic adaptations, again by the Nurse to Juliet on the night before she is to marry Paris: "Wait 10 years. You'll sleep all you want."

But the basic story is still the essence of intelligent soap opera, and for its endurance, even this weak version, I am grateful.  And that cinematography makes me long to return to fair Verona.

John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at Contact him at