Romeo and Juliet

As the first English language adaptation of Shakespeare’s iconic play since 2000, and the first to offer a straightforward take since Zeffirelli’s 1968 version, Carlo Carlei’s “Romeo and Juliet” is a sobering reminder that impetuous and hormonally charged teenagers were a thing for ages.

Adapted with unironic earnestness by Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”), this new version stars Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) as the star-crossed lovers, whose doomed romance seems more a byproduct of adolescent impatience than the enduring allure of true love. Elegant and well-acted, “Romeo and Juliet” offers an adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic stage play that effectively chronicles young love.

Set in Verona, where a fierce rivalry rages between the houses of Montague (Tomas Arana) and Capulet (Damian Lewis), Romeo and Juliet meet by chance at a party and immediately fall head over heels in love. Hoping that their union will end the feud between their families, Romeo’s friend and mentor Friar Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) agrees to marry the couple in secret, but their celebration is short-lived when Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (Ed Westwick) kills Romeo’s friend Mercutio (Christian Cooke). With the Montagues and Capulets more fiercely divided than ever, Juliet solicits Lawrence’s help to reunite once more with Romeo, who awaits word from her after being exiled for retaliating for Mercutio’s murder.

In stark contrast to other versions of this story that condensed Shakespeare’s florid language into digestible bites, Fellowes shows admirable commitment to the source material and yet is remarkably successful at making it feel accessible. Carlei pairs it with imagery that feels suitably theatrical – sweeping curls of dust precede the arrival of Tybalt as he arrives to challenge Romeo – and then guides the actors to find the emotion behind the words.

Ultimately handled with sensitivity, handsome period detail and loyalty to the original text, Carlei’s “Romeo and Juliet” earns its place among the most authentic film adaptations of Shakespeare’s play.

- Todd Gilchrist, The Wrap


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