The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #66: Romeo and Juliet (2013)

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66. Carlo Carlei’s Romeo and Juliet (2013)

Why does Carlo Carlei’s Romeo and Juliet make me cranky?

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I think part of the problem is that David Tattersall’s camera is a little too enamored with the posh art direction of Gianpaolo Rifino and Armando Savoia. These Renaissance mansions of Verona make our best museums look like hovels, with nearly all of the numerous servants necessary for the upkeep of such mansions mostly banished from sight. The actors and Shakespeare’s words are chiefly there just to serve the imagery. This Romeo and Juliet is architecture porn.

Some of it is churches, but only the iconography gives that away.

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The principal young male actors, too, seem cast for their photogenic dreaminess—human architecture. Ed Westwick as Tybalt looks like the lovechild of a young Johnny Depp and Antonio Banderas.


His aquiline nose, fiercely arching eyebrows, big jaw, and long hair make him seem like a pre-Raphaelite dream.

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Douglas Booth as Romeo looks like a beautiful mannequin, with large cheekbones and full pouty lips.

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Christian Cooke as Tybalt is darkly, dashingly handsome, an ever-so-slightly gothic touch.

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Oh, yes, Hailee Steinfeld was 16 when she portrayed Juliet, and almost looks like she could be thirteen, as the text dictates. She looks sort of androgynous, like Kodi Smit-McPhee who plays Benvolio.

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Just in case one can overlook how beautiful this tragedy is supposed to look (kind of like a grand opera), Abel Korzeniowski’s score sounds like what might happen if Yanni performed some variations of soap opera themes with a dash of Michael Nyman or Philip Glass.

The effect is more depressing than tragic, if you ask me.

One odder thing into this mix is how Julian Fellowes would rewrite minor elements of the plot to make the story seem even more tragic than Shakespeare made it. Perhaps he suspected how little relevance the story would have in such an unrelenting cinematic aesthetic of excruciating beauty.

If so many actors blend into the cheesy music and opulent scenery, the fault isn’t necessarily theirs. The performances are quite satisfactory—the acting never demolishes the film. Douglas Booth may look like a mannequin, but he doesn’t act like one.

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And some veteran actors like Paul Giamatti (the Friar), Damian Lewis (Lord Capulet), and Natascha McElhone (Lady Capulet) contribute wonderfully.

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Westwick and Cooke make great foes.

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If you are much younger than I am (perhaps you haven’t been born yet), and long to see a Romeo and Juliet presented as an Italian soap opera version of a Renaissance fairy tale, then this is the movie for you.

At its worst, it’s still infinitely preferable to Romeo + Juliet, which you should only watch if you’ve been kicked in the head by a mule.


John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

One response to “The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #66: Romeo and Juliet (2013)”

  1. […] week, the bourgeoisie wet dream that is Carlo Carlei’s Romeo and Juliet so dismayed me that I decided the time had come to try Tromeo and Juliet. From time to time, I […]

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