Since St. Valentines Day is almost upon us I thought it would be appropriate to feature a romantic movie—and why not go with what is considered maybe the greatest love story of all time—Romeo and Juliet.
I’ll assume everyone knows the story, a family feud, the star-crossed lovers, their unfortunate end, it’s been told many times in many forms, but the power of both the love and tragedy continues to resonate hundreds of years after the play was written. The story of the tragic young lovers existed before Shakespeare wrote it down, but he added supporting characters, amped up the drama and spun the tale using his brilliant language leaving us with a story that will likely live on forever.
While I’m also a fan of 1996 Baz Luhrmann version, nothing compares to Zeffirelli’s beautiful 1968 telling of Shakespeare’s classic. Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting are both passionate and gorgeous, not to mention incredibly convincing.
The thing that sets this film apart from the many other film versions of Romeo and Juliet is that the leads were actually played by actors close to the ages of the doomed characters (Hussey was just 15 and Whiting 17). Teenagers are overly dramatic and emotional especially when they’re in love, and this version captures that teenage sense of self-centered, lustful infatuation. The actors in the 1936 version were absurdly aged 35 and 43 when they filled the roles of the love-sick teenagers. The 1954 version did a bit better with the actor who played Romeo being 26 and Juliet age 20, but Zeffirelli’s choice to cast actors who were nearly the same age as they were written makes their instant and obsessive love vastly more devastating and believable.
This film was the Twilight of its day—the young actors were propelled to stardom and made Shakespeare cool again. In fact the media attention was so intense that Olivia Hussey became burdened with agoraphobia from the sudden fame. Though Hussey and Whiting received a great deal of praise, all the performances are incredible. Milo O’Shea (Friar Laurence), Pat Heywood (The Nurse), Michael York (Tybalt), and John McEnery (Mercutio) round out the cast and do exceptional jobs in their roles.
This film won the Oscar for best costume design and best cinematography, and it’s easy to see why. I’ve been obsessed with the costumes from this movie since I was a kid, they’re so intricate and interesting sometimes they steal the scenes from the actors.
If you haven’t seen this film or you haven’t watched it since high school when your teacher fast-forwarded through the brief nudity, you should definitely watch it again. Everything about it is beautiful, Zeffirelli took a story that had been told thousands of times and rather than modernize it he chose to bring it back to its original setting and make it feel real.
So this Valentines Day if you feel like crying your eyes out (alone or with a partner), looking at beautiful scenery, and re-living one of the greatest love stories of all time, put this film at the top of your list.
Happy Valentine’s Day!!
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