Film review: The BBC Romeo and Juliet

And after dinner, we watched the BBC version of Romeo and Juliet. I still haven’t decided what I think of it overall.

Let’s see… well, to start with, in this production Tybalt is played by a terribly young-looking Alan Rickman. He’s very good, as one might expect, but I do find it hilarious to note that he already has that sinister Alan Rickman voice even with the rather chubby young face and unfortunate costuming.

Juliet is played by Rebecca Saire in this production, and she was 14 at the time it was filmed. For me, she was the stand-out character – I’ve never seen Juliet played by a 14-year-old who could still make Juliet convincing, and Saire did a lovely job. Her Juliet had innocence, wit, passionate emotion and self-possession, she went from childlike to frighteningly adult and back again very convincingly, and the expression on her face when the Nurse advises her to marry Paris (and her delivery of that line about how she is much comforted) was excellent – you could see her just closing off and deciding that clearly she was going to have to act on her own, then, without her needing to say a word. I loved her relationships with her family and her household, and especially liked the way Lady Capulet played her role – she and Juliet had a really warm and affectionate relationship, which is not something I’ve seen before (Lady Capulet usually seems to be a bit of a Lady Macbeth in training). I was interested to see that in the big confrontation between Juliet and her parents, Lady Capulet’s ‘You are too hot’ is aimed at her husband, not to Juliet – and her final line “Talk not to me, for I’ll not speak a word: Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee” was delivered in a hurried, frazzled sort of way – it sounded more like “fine, do what you like, I can’t stop you”, as she hurried out of the room to try to calm down her husband. Juliet’s nurse was also good, though she annoyed me by being far too ladylike – the Nurse is meant to be vulgar, and she really wasn’t!

And then we have Romeo, whom I did not like one bit. Firstly, he was 28, and it showed. He looked about twice Juliet’s age (because he was) and he and Juliet had absolutely no chemistry. Actually, I would say they had anti-chemistry, and in trying to create chemistry their scenes together he came across as somewhat sleazy. I couldn’t watch them together, actually. The age thing didn’t help, but clearly wasn’t all of it, because Paris also appeared to be in his mid-twenties, and his interactions with Juliet seemed more natural and far less skin-crawly (in fact, he’s the first non-sleazy Paris that I have seen in a production of this play). Really, you don’t want Paris to be more appealing than Romeo. Oddly enough, when Juliet and Romeo were talking to other people about their love for each other, they were entirely convincing (especially Juliet). But I was not at all convinced when they fell in love in the dancing scene, and the rest does sort of need to follow from that or there is no plot.

Incidentally, have you noticed that if only Romeo or Juliet had even a little bit of patience, this play would be a comedy? If Romeo had waited for Tybalt to be arrested for Mercutio’s death… if Juliet had actually followed the Friar’s advice and waited that extra day before taking the potion, thus allowing time for the message to arrive… if Romeo had waited for a message from the Friar before going off half-cocked…

But I digress. The Friar, incidentally, was very good, and I did like his relationship with Romeo.

Then there was Mercutio, played by Anthony Andrews. Andrew really liked him. I was in two minds… I did like a lot of things about his acting, but I did think his Mercutio was a little more unstable than he needed to be. However, I am completely incapable of being impartial on this subject, because the first Shakespeare I ever saw or read was the school production of Romeo and Juliet, in which the actress playing Mercutio was really exceptional and I imprinted both on the role and on her interpretation of it. So nobody else ever does it quite right… He did make it nicely bawdy, though, which was a relief – I was worried they were all going to be as well-behaved as the Nurse, and that would have been a crime.

The ending – particularly Lady Capulet’s reaction to Juliet’s second death – did make me cry. It doesn’t always. I even felt bad for Romeo, though not as bad as I did for Paris, who really did not deserve to die, poor boy.

So yes – I’d say it was definitely worth a look, if you haven’t seen it, even if Romeo does have 70s hair and an annoyingly sleazy nature. Juliet makes it all worthwhile.

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