Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

“That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

In 16th ventury Verona, Romeo Montague (Leonard Whiting) and Juliet (Olivia Hussey) — daughter of Lady (Natasha Parry) and Lord Capulet (Paul Hardwick) — fall in love, and must navigate the rocky shores of their cross-clan romance.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Franco Zeffirelli Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Michael York Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Shakespeare
  • Star-Crossed Lovers
  • Teenagers

Franco Zeffirelli directed this Oscar-nominated adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy about two doomed young lovers from rivalling families. The casting of unknown actors Whiting (16 years old) and Hussey (15 years old) was a genius move — especially in contrast with the much-ridiculed age-mismatch in George Cukor’s 1936 version co-starring Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard (both very much beyond their teenage years). Hussey and Whiting come across as authentically lovestruck, and it’s easy to root for them in their sudden teenage passion.

[More controversial was Zeffirelli’s decision to shoot a gratuitous nude scene with the newly married young couple on the morning after their marriage, over which the actors have just recently sued Paramount Studios for $500 million.]

This action-packed film was lauded by many critics for bringing vibrancy, color, and life to the play — and it does indeed feature beautiful cinematography, sets, and costumes:

… though I’ll admit to being majorly distracted by the odd “beehive” hat worn by Lady Capulet in early scenes. What is up with that thing? What is it made of? Was it uncomfortable to wear? Why would someone wear it?

Of the supporting cast, most memorable (and believable) is Pat Heywood as Juliet’s Nurse; and Milo O’Shea — playing a radically different character in Barbarella (1968) that same year — is appropriately helpful yet abashed in the infamous role he plays in the storyline.

Meanwhile, Michael York — with dark, dyed hair — plays a dramatic Tybalt in one of his earliest screen appearances, after debuting in Joseph Losey’s Accident (1967).

This adaptation — with just a couple of scenes removed — remains a valuable cinematic rendering for teens who’ve studied the play in school; indeed, that was how and when I first saw it. While it’s not must-see viewing, it’s worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Olivia Hussey as Juliet
  • Leonard Whiting as Romeo
  • Pat Heywood as the Nurse
  • Milo O’Shea as the Friar
  • Fine period sets and location shooting
  • Pasqualino DeSantis’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for its historical relevance. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Romeo and Juliet (1968)

  1. Rewatch 9/25/21.

    A once-must, for its place in cinema history.

    Among Shakespeare plays, this has never been a personal favorite (and I’m squarely in the minority with that opinion; I’ll admit it has understandable weight as a crowd-pleaser – and esp. for those being introduced to Shakespeare). This film version is rather expertly done overall and it moves along well-enough. The production design and photography are impressive and there’s an effective film score.

    Seeing the lead performances again (for the first time since the film’s release), I’m taken more with Whiting than Hussey. He seems consistently more in the proper spirit – but she comes off better early on when she’s doing less; she seems to lose control as the film progresses.

    Of those in the cast, Pat Heywood as The Nurse gives the most layered and engaging performance.

    Sidebar: A playwright friend once told me a so-called ‘inside story’: Word came down from the production’s staff that Zeffirelli had made the foolish move of falling in love with Whiting; something that had no chance of being reciprocated. Zeffirelli responded in the editing room – by removing focus on Whiting wherever possible. One can’t really tell that from the finished film.

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