The plot synopsis speaks for itself really, with Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld taking on the eponymous leading roles. Meanwhile, Damien Lewis plays Lord Capulet, Kodi Smit-McPhee takes on Benvolio, while Paul Giamatti plays Friar Laurence, in this tragic love story of two people hopelessly falling in love, yet under immense social pressure to remain apart, given the intense rivalry between the two conflicting families they have spawned from.
Though Fellowes has done a commendable job in adapting this screenplay – managing to remain faithful to the original, and yet stamp his own mark on proceedings – the greatest aspect to this film is simply the story itself, and that’s something that comes with the territory, and nobody (apart from Shakespeare himself) can take any credit for that. Though Romeo and Juliet is equally as dramatic as it is romantic a story, this suffers from focusing far more predominantly on the latter, as we don’t get a sense for the intensity of the battle sequences and rivalry at hand – whereas the emotional, romantic notions are depicted substantially.
On the whole this is very conventional filmmaking, as the way the music has been implemented, and the overall style of the piece is one that seems to have come out of a instruction manual on how to make a standard, period drama. It’s the sort of film that could well be used as part of the teaching curriculum, to help prove to kids how ‘accessible’ Shakespeare can be. Talking of kids, question marks do need to be raised about the casting of Steinfeld as our leading lady. There is no denying the talent this young actress possesses, not to mention the fact that in the original play Juliet is only supposed to be 13 years old, but in this instance it merely seeks in destroying any potential chemistry the lead two actors need to share. Steinfeld was only 15 at the time of shooting, and her age shows – drastically differing to that of Booth, who would have been 19 when this was made. Performances across the board are relatively strong however, with Giamatti standing out by a country mile, illuminating every scene he is in.
The one big problem with this Romeo and Juliet adaptation, however, is that it doesn’t truly serve a purpose in contemporary cinema. You have to do something truly unique and creative to justify putting money into this project, to warrant yet another cinematic adaptation of it. It’s all been done before, and better too. Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 take perfected it as a period piece, while Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 modernisation of the tale was groundbreaking too. Therefore, and though somewhat enjoyable in parts, Carlei’s version has the ever unfortunate question of “what’s the point?” lingering over it like a dark, menacing cloud.