Another adaptation of Shakespeare's classic romance is released. Have critics been wooed?
The news that there was a planned new Romeo and Juliet movie was initially akin to learning that there was a new Dracula in the works, sparking cries of "Another one?", "Again?" Rightly so; Baz Luhrmann's 1996 memorable adaptation of William Shakespeare's 16th century tragedy certainly set the precedent for sexing up the Bard to bring the iambic pentameter to a generation of short attention spans.
This time, the story is set in Verona, rather than LA, and Juliet Capulet is played by the Oscar-nominated Hailee Steinfeld alongside Douglas Booth as Romeo Montague and Ed Westwick as Tybalt. Damian Lewis and Natascha McElhone play Lord and Lady Capulet. A solid cast indeed, but could the staging stand up?
Written by Julian Fellowes, the man known for his skill with period dramas and most notably ITV's Downton Abbey, the movie promised a heart-stoppingly romantic ride through teen emotions and family politics. The trailer certainly gives a vision of how sickly sweet the movie is, with breathlessly lustful stares pinging back and forth as well as pointlessly slow motion shots of tumbling hair and fabric. Not to mention Damian Lewis' horrendous haircut.
However, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw hankers for a little twist of Luhrmann showmanship in this "very stately and conservative new version," also adding that Fellowes' manipulation of the base text could have catastrophic fallout for schoolkids' perception of the playwright. "The liberties taken with the text mean that it might not even be all that suitable for school parties," and thus the death knell is struck.
Though the "sumptuously shot" scenes, the "decent" cast, and the "rousing Three Musketeer-style swordplay" is fed with praise, The Independent's Geoffrey MacNab is similarly disparaging, remarking that the film is "thoroughly lacking in any emotional oomph." Regardless, Both (who you may recognise from the recently televised Great Expectations) is described as having "star quality." It's just a shame the script is so mangled.
Unfortunately, Fellowes was a little pompous when it came to defending his choice to make alterations to Shakespeare's 400 year-old play. "When people say we should have filmed the original, I don't attack them for that point of view," he said, adding "to see the original in its absolutely unchanged form, you require a kind of Shakespearian scholarship and you need to understand the language and analyse it..."
"I can do that because I had a very expensive education, I went to Cambridge. Not everyone did that and there are plenty of perfectly intelligent people out there who have not been trained in Shakespeare's language choices," he added, according to BBC News.
Nevertheless, Fellowes' intention was honourable: "We wanted [a wider group] to enjoy a version of Romeo and Juliet much more than they would expect to [...] to allow them to enjoy the great beauty of the speeches," he explained.
Romeo and Juliet is released in cinemas from today (11th October).
'Romeo & Juliet': The Romantic Tragedy Is Once Again Revived For Film.