William Shakespeare’s play of youthful, melodramatic love, Romeo & Juliet has been made into a film several times. Most of the adaptations of the past seem to feel an obligation to engage with the (preferably youthful) populace. It comes as a bit of a surprise then that this latest iteration doesn’t kowtow to the youth of today, but instead, plays it straight. Adapted, trimmed, and altered by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey), he has made the odd choice to discard much of the Bard’s original text, in favor of his own take on Shakespearean classiness.
Fellowes wisely keeps much of the well known plot intact, and filming in Verona allows for beautiful location shots that add a sense of realism to events. Unfortunately, Hailee Steinfeld—15 at the time of filming—seems seriously out of her element here. She’s undeniably sweet enough, but she just doesn’t have the voice, or necessary command of Shakespeare’s sometimes difficult language. Beyond that, her line readings often make Juliet sound straight out of Southern California. Douglas Booth does a bit better, showing a little bit of vulnerability, and the innocence of youth. As one might expect, Paul Giamatti is fun as Friar Laurence, and Damian Lewis also rather good as Lord Capulet.
The biggest problem in a sea of problems? Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth have nothing in the way of believable chemistry. Without the star-crossed lovers striking a chord, Romeo & Juliet slowly moves to a tragic climax that it’s hard to truly care about. Beyond the casting, this production leaves me asking why. Why did Fellowes feel the need to so dramatically alter the Bard’s work? To just discard big chunks of dialogue? It’s hard to get your head around. It certainly doesn’t make Romeo & Juliet better, and makes it impossible to recommend this film version.
Presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the film, shot with the Arri Alexa on location in Verona, looks impressive. There’s a beautiful array of colors, and they come through brilliantly. Slin tones look natural, and the details of various costumes are clear. Contrast is strong, offering clarity in both outdoor and indoor scenes. No obvious compression artifacts are apparent.
Romeo and Juliet‘s lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is surprisingly immersive at times—during sword fights, and the hooves of horses—but this is largely a pretty quiet, dialogue driven film. Ambient effects are handled nicely, and dialogue is clear. There’s really nothing to complain about here.
English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are available.
The following extras are included:
- Romeo and Juliet: Cast and Crew (HD, 3:15) interviews interspersed with clips from the film.
- Romeo and Juliet: The Filmmaker’s Vision (HD, 3:51) interviews with director Carlo Carlei, Julian Fellowes, and others.
- Romeo and Juliet: Creating the Look (HD 3:39) looks at the film’s production design.
- Romeo and Juliet: Hair and Make-Up (HD, 2:16) shows how historically appropriate styles were achieved.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:26)
- UV Digital Copy
- Digital Copy (as download)