Monday, December 17, 2007

Romeo and Juliet on screen

Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968)

In putting Romeo and Juliet on screen, the director must set the action in a social context that illuminates the characters, and mediates between the Renaissance play and modern audiences.[1] In 1970, George Cukor commented on why his "stately" and "stodgy" 1936 adaptation had not stood the test of time, saying that if he had the opportinity to make it again he would "get the garlic and the mediterranean into it".[2] Yet that performance (featuring Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard, with a combined age over 75, as the teenage lovers) had garnered no fewer than four Oscar nominations.[3]

The films' openings highlight each director's care to establish authenticity: Cukor introduces his characters in a shot of a scene played on a proscenium stage; Renato Castellani's 1954 version opens with John Gielgud, famous as a stage Romeo, as the Prologue in Elizabethan doublet and hose; Zeffirelli sets his scene with an overview of Verona, and his Prologue, in voiceover, was another famous stage Romeo: Laurence Olivier. In contrast, Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film, Romeo + Juliet, was targeted at a young audience, and opens with images of television and print journalism.[4]

A particular difficulty for the screen-writer arises towards the end of the fourth act, where Shakespeare's play requires considerable compression to be effective on the big screen, without giving the impression of "cutting to the chase".[5] In Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 version, Juliet's return home from the Friar's cell, her submission to her father and the preparation for the wedding are drastically abbreviated, and the tomb scene is also cut short: Paris does not appear at all, and Benvolio (in the Balthazar role) is sent away but is not threatened.[6] In Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, the screenplay allows Juliet to witness Romeo's death, and the role of the watch is cut, permitting Friar Lawrence to remain with Juliet and to be taken by surprise by her sudden suicide.[7]

In total, Shakespeare's play has been filmed over 40 times. In addition, several reworkings of the story have also been filmed, most notably West Side Story, Prokofiev's ballet and Romanoff and Juliet. Also, several theatrical films, such as Shakespeare in Love and Romeo Must Die, consciously use elements of Shakespeare's plot.


* Romeo and Juliet (USA, silent, 1908)
o J. Stuart Blackton director
o Florence Lawrence as Juliet
o Paul Panzer as Romeo
* Romeo and Juliet (USA, 1936)
o George Cukor director
o Norma Shearer as Juliet
o Leslie Howard as Romeo
o John Barrymore as Mercutio
o Andy Devine as Peter
+ The film received four Academy Awards nominations:
# Best Picture - Irving Thalberg, producer
# Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Basil Rathbone - as Tybalt
# Best Actress - Norma Shearer
# Best Art Direction - Cedric Gibbons, Fredric Hope and Edwin B. Willis
* Romeo and Juliet (UK, 1954)
o Renato Castellani director
o Susan Shentall as Juliet
o Laurence Harvey as Romeo
o Flora Robson as the Nurse
o Mervyn Johns as Friar Laurence.
* Romeo and Juliet (Italy, 1968)
o Franco Zeffirelli director
o Olivia Hussey as Juliet
o Leonard Whiting as Romeo
+ The film won two Academy Awards:
# best cinematography
# best costume design.
+ It had two further Academy Award nominations:
# Best Director
# Best Picture.
* BBC Television Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet (TV, UK, 1978), released in the USA as part of the "Complete Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare" series.
* The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (USA, 1983)
o William Woodman director
o Blanche Baker as Juliet
o Alex Hyde-White as Romeo
* Romeo and Juliet (TV, UK, 1988)
o Joan Kemp-Welch director
o Ann Hasson as Juliet
o Christopher Neame as Romeo
* The Animated Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet (TV, Russia and UK, 1992)
o Efim Gamburg director
o Felicity Kendall as narrator
o Clare Holman as the voice of Juliet
o Linus Roache as the voice of Romeo
* Romeo+Juliet (aka “William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet”) (USA, 1996)
o Baz Luhrmann director
o Claire Danes as Juliet
o Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo
+ The film received one Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction and Set Decoration (Catherine Martin and Brigitte Broch)


* Beneath the 12 Mile Reef (USA, 1953) transposes the general plot of the play to rival fishing families in Depression-era Florada.
* Romanoff and Juliet (USA, 1960) is a film of Peter Ustinov's theatrical Cold War adaptation.
* West Side Story (USA, 1961) is the film of a Broadway musical adaptation of the Romeo and Juliet story, set in 1950s New York, by Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein
o Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins directors
o Natalie Wood as Maria
* Romie-0 and Julie-8 (Canada, 1979) is a made-for-television animated film in which the two leads are depicted as robots who fall in love.
o Clive A. Smith, director
o Greg Swanson as the voice of Romie-0
o Donann Cavin as the voice of Julie-8
* The Sea Prince and the Fire Child (Japan, 1981) is an anime adaptation.
* Tromeo and Juliet (USA, 1996) is a "trash" adaptation, tagged: Body Piercing, Kinky Sex, Dismemberment. The Things That Made Shakespeare Great.
o Lloyd Kaufman director
o Lemmy from Motörhead as narrator.
o Jane Jensen as Juliet Capulet
o Will Keenan as Tromeo Que
* Love Is All There Is is a comic take on the tragic story, set in The Bronx, involving two Italian immigrant families who own opposing restaurants.
o Nathaniel Marston as Rosario (the Romeo character)
o Angelina Jolie as Gina (the Juliet character)
* Romeo Must Die (2000) is a martial arts film variation on the Romeo and Juliet theme.
o Andrzej Bartkowiak director
o Jet Li as Han
o Aaliyah as Trish O’Day
* حبك نار (Hobak Nar or Your love is fire) (Egypt, 2004) is an Egyptian film, setting the tragedy in modern Cairo.
* Pizza My Heart (USA, TV, 2005) is a comic adaptation set in Verona, New Jersey.
* Romeo & Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss (USA, 2006) is an animated adaptation of the story told with seals and features a kid-friendly happy ending.
* Romeo x Juliet (Japan, TV, 2007) is an anime series derived from the play.

Significant Parallels

* Theatre of Blood features a Shakespearean actor who takes poetic revenge on the critics who denied him recognition, including a fencing scene inspired by Romeo and Juliet.
* Shakespeare in Love dramatises the writing and first performance of Romeo and Juliet.

Films featuring performances

A number of films feature characters performing scenes from Romeo and Juliet, including the 1912 and 1982 film versions of Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby, Cured Hams (1927), Drama De Luxe (1927), Broadway Fever (1928), The Hollywood Revue of 1929, Playmates (1941), Time Flies (1944), Les Amants de Verone (1944), Marjorie Morningstar (1958), Carry on Teacher (1959) Shakespeare Wallah (1965) and, significantly, Shakespeare in Love (1998).[8]


1. ^ Tatspaugh, Patricia "The Tragedy of Love on Film" in Jackson, Russell "The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film" (Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-521-63975-1) p.135
2. ^ Tatspaugh, p.136
3. ^ Tatspaugh, p.136
4. ^ Tatspaugh, p.136
5. ^ Jackson, Russell "From play-script to screenplay" in Jackson, Russell "The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film" (Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-521-63975-1) p.30
6. ^ Russell, p.30
7. ^ Russell, p.31
8. ^ McKernan, Luke and Terris, Olwen (eds.) "Walking Shadows: Shakespeare in the National Film and Television Archive" (British Film Institute, 1994, ISBN 0-85170-486-7) pp.141-156

Further reading

* Martin, Jennifer L. "Tights vs. Tattoos: Filmic Interpretations of 'Romeo and Juliet'." The English Journal. 92.1 Shakespeare for a New Age (Sep 2002) pp. 41-46 doi:10.2307/821945.
* Lehmann, Courtney. "Strictly Shakespeare? Dead Letters, Ghostly Fathers, and the Cultural Pathology of Authorship in Baz Luhrmann's 'William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet'." Shakespeare Quarterly. 52.2 (Summer 2001) pp. 189-221.

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