Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Carlo Carlei
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Paul Giamatti, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Damian Lewis, Tom Wisdom, Ed Westwick, Christian Cooke, Stellan Skarsgard, Leslie Manville, Natascha McElhone
Do we really need another cinematic version of Shakespeare’s classic and timeless tragedy of two
star crossed lovers? The answer is probably no. Especially since Franco Zeffirelli gave us one of
the best and most faithful adaptations with his visually lavish Oscar winning 1968 version, or since
Baz Luhrmann gave us his flamboyant more contemporary take on the Bard’s tale, keeping the
poetic archaic language but setting the story in the modern age with cars, guns and pop music on
the soundtrack. And especially not when the new version is so bland and generic.
The biggest problem lies with the young actors primarily. Hailee Steinfeld, who was so good in the
remake of True Grit, lacks any real sense of passion or commitment to the role of the love struck
Juliet. In fact when called upon to deliver her famous “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou”
speech in the balcony scene she seems more like a deer stuck in the headlights, hesitant and
unsure of herself. She struggles with some of the key line readings throughout the film. Douglas
Booth, currently playing Noah’s oldest son in Darren Aronofsky’s epic Noah, makes for a rather
bland Romeo. While he might be handsome and looks like he stepped straight out of an
Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue, he fails to bring much energy or passion to the role. And there is
little chemistry between the pair.
Rising young Australian star Kodi SmitMcPhee (Romulus My Father, Let Me In, The Road, etc)
fares little better, delivering an unusually wooden and lifeless performance as his best friend
Benvolio. The cast comprises a number fo young actors drawn from the world of television
including Tom Wisdom (Mile High, etc) as Paris, Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl, etc) as the fiery and
hot headed Tybalt, and Christian Cooke (Magic City, etc) in key roles.
It is the adult performers who bring some passion and vitality to the film, particularly Damian
Lewis (from tv’s Homeland), who plays Juliet’s domineering father Lord Capulet. Paul Giamatti is
also excellent with an impassioned and robust and at times comical performance as the
sympathetic Friar Lawrence, who agrees to marry Romeo and Juliet in haste and in secret in the
hopes that their nuptials will help bring an end to the ongoing and bloody feud between their two
families that has brought civil unrest to the streets of fair Verona. He stamps his claim to be
regarded as the finest screen incarnation of Friar Lawrence. And veteran Lesley Manville leaves
an impression as Juliet’s faithful nurse, who is more of a maternal influence than her own mother,
a cold and aloof Natascha McElhone.
With this umpteenth version of the classic tale, Italian director Carlo Carlei (Fluke, etc) takes few
risks with the familiar story. Working with a script from Julian Fellowes (television’s Downton
Abbey, etc) Carlei at least replants the story in its sixteenth century Italian setting. And he does
shoot it on location in Verona itself, and a number of beautiful palatial homes and palaces in Italy,
which lends an authenticity to the settings with its beautiful interiors and cobbled streets. But
Fellowes’ script takes a few liberties with the play and rewritten large chunks of dialogue, a
decision that may not sit well with purists.
And while this new version of Romeo And Juliet boasts some stunning and rich cinematography
from David Tattersall (The Adventures Of Young Indiana Jones, Star Wars Episodes 1-3, etc),
superb costumes from Carlo Pogglioli, and lavish production design from Tonino Zera, it is rather
dull and emotionally dry. Abel Korzeniowski’s string driven score is at times lush and evocative.
Carlei’s pacing is also rather pedestrian and he fails to capture the emotional intensity of the story.