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Romeo and Juliet


Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Tomas Arana, Christian Cooke, Damian Lewis, Natascha McElhone, Lesley Manville, Laura Morante, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ed Westwick, Tom Wisdom, Leon Vitali, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Giamatti

Director: Carlo Carlei

I nipped out of the screening and checked with the projectionist to find out why I was being bugged by a continuous whirring sound while watching the film. He checked his equipment and could find nothing wrong.

We finally agreed – and with good reason – that the noise must have been cause by William Shakespeare turning in his grave.

And who could blame him?

Presumably Julian Fellowes (writer of the hugely popular period television soap series Downton Abbey and the yet unreleased in Britain 2006 romantic comedy Piccadilly Jim) believed he could beat the Bard at his own game with his adaptation of the great Shakespearian romantic drama.

He lost.

Fellowes (who also doubles as a producer) has succeeded in revising the original so as to serve it up as a filleted version aimed, presumably, at teenagers for whom the name Shakespeare would probably be a mystery or, at best, assuming they had heard of the musical West Side Story, as a minor Hollywood screenwriter.

The plusses? Well-chosen and attractively photographed (David Tatersall) Verona (the original is set there) locations and impressive costumes (Carlo Poggioli), along with the splendid sight of Damian Lewis giving his all (and then just a tad more) as Juliet’s dad Lord Capulet and Lesley Manville as Juliet’s nurse.

And the minuses?

Let me count the ways, as the Shakespeare sonnet so splendidly puts it.

Hailee Stansfeld, so splendid in the remake of True Grit, is so out of her depth here as Juliet I had to fight to resist the temptation to throw her a lifebelt.

Douglas Booth is suitably hunky as Romeo (“Eat your heart out, Tarzan” as you watch that guy climb up to the balcony in the key scene) but not really up to the dramatic requirement of the role.

Abel Korzeniowski’s pompous mock-operatic score also becomes increasingly irritating, laid on as it is with barely a break by director Carlo Carlei.

The best he can hope for is that his assault on Shakespeare will become regular cinematic punishment for luckless legions of future schoolchildren,

Verdict? From Bard to worse.

Alan Frank

USA 2013. UK Distributor: Entertainment Film Distributors. Colour.
118 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 11 Oct 2013