Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is usually the more favored film version of Shakespeare’s play. The filming feels wonderfully modern, while only showing us a long ago period. The actors are young, full of uninhibited youthful energy, just as their characters are. Best of all, this version seems to engage viewers the most, with a gripping sense of emotion that stems from the perfectly innocent young lovers who are destined to tragedy despite all the good intentions surrounding them.
The iconic balcony scene perfectly expresses the rush of thrilling emotions that make Romeo and Juliet unforgettable. As Romeo (Leonard Whiting) listens in the garden, he is filled the excitement of budding love, and when Juliet (Olivia Hussey) starts talking about him, out heart leaps with his. It’s suddenly a miracle and he cannot help but leap out and profess his love. The day-dream like sound in their voices makes our head swim and the powerful body language, like when Romeo lunges from the tree to the balcony invigorate us and draw us into this romance. Unfortunately, it’s also what makes every little end all the more painful. Every goodbye, up to the last is tragic, and at the end of the balcony scene, the way their hands break apart is like agony. Beautiful, sweet agony.
I was a little surprised, but happy to see how this film won the Oscar for Cinematography. There were few sprawling landscapes to contend with this film’s upclose and personal approach. Here, the camera regularly hugs these characters tightly within the frame, then follows them across the scene and keeping them very close to the focal point. This feels very natural, like how one would focus and follow an actor on stage, only much more zoomed in experience than one would have in a traditional theater. The closer the camera brings us to our ill-fated couple, the more the love and tragedy are magnified.
The sets and costumes here perfectly fit the time period and add beautiful details to the background of the film. Between the young men’s two-toned tights, the maid’s giant dress that billows in the wind, the masks at the party and everything in between, the costume design deserved it’s Oscar win. It was colorful, and eye-catching, yet not too distracting from our focal point actors. The sets offer another level of visual beauty with the stone architecture in the small village. My favorite set has to be the church, it’s all stone and so grand with its mosaic floor and huge columns. That location added the perfect visual elements to this film, and I doubt one could ever find another old stone building with such a lush variety of patterns, textures and heights. Seeing those two kids kneeling in such a grand place only makes their love seem stronger.
This is the film version of Romeo and Juliet that I believe everyone must see. It’s nothing short of wonderful, beautiful, romantic and tragic, just as Shakespeare intended.
“Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet sorrow, That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”