Romeo and Juliet (2 stars)

Romeo and Juliet

Carlo Carlei's take on Shakespeare's much-told tale is far too reverent to the source material

Shakespeare’s classic story of star-crosssed lovers arrives in our cinemas thanks to co-production company Swarovski, and the results have the same ring of bling to them. This film puts the Bard behind glass; there’s lots of dazzle in the earrings, necklaces and tunic-linings, but less so in the acting from the leads, which is turgid compared the Baz Luhrmann’s sprightly 1996 version.

Adapted by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, Romeo and Juliet plays the classic story dead straight, with none of the spacesuits or handguns Lurmann’s irreverent rendering featured. Filmed on location on Verona, Fellowes cuts the language without removing much in the way of incident; boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy and girl inadvertently engage in a suicide pact, all at a reasonably brisk pace.

Douglas Booth at least looks the part as Romeo, although some of his early line-readings suggest he should be moved down a reading group. Despite her excellent performance in the Coen BrothersTrue Grit, Hailee Steinfeld never gets to grips with Juliet, while the background presence of superior actors (Paul Giamatti as the Friar, Natascha McElhone and Damian Lewis as Juliet’s mother and father, Lesley Manville as the nurse) provide constant reminders of the low-energy at the centre of the tale.

While Lurhmann’s version dazzled, Carlo Carlei’s seems far too reverent to the source material, po-faced, literal and without raising much intensity. Unusually, this version of Romeo and Juliet does improve as it goes on, and the final scenes in the crypt are all the better for the care taken with the often-abused apothecary subplot. But with Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version still the best straight adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, the 2013 incarnation finishes a poor third place.

General release from Fri 11 Oct.

Romeo and Juliet - Official Trailer (2013)

Romeo and Juliet

  • 2 stars
  • 2013
  • UK / Italy / Switzerland
  • 1h 58min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Carlo Carlei
  • Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Ed Westwick
  • UK release: 11 October 2013

Another adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy, from Italian director Carlei.