Thursday, 6 December 2012

Romeo + Juliet (1996)

“If love be rough with you, be rough with love.”

I’ve always been in two minds about Romeo and Juliet. On some days I find it a genuinely affecting romantic drama. Trouble is, though, behind Shakespeare’s wonderfully eloquent language lies a plot which tempts you to take the piss; it’s such an uber-melodrama it half takes the piss out of itself. And this is a young Shakespeare, closer to the blood and gore of Titus Andronicus than to his most acclaimed tragedies; the play is certainly less reflective and philosophical than his other more well-known plays, and much more about the set pieces.

All of which, of course, makes this play gloriously cinematic, and an opportunity which Baz Luhrmann has grabbed with both hands. This film is brilliantly set area city of “Verona Beach”, an ultra-modern, sun-soaked urban sprawl plagued by gang warfare between the Montagues and the Capulets. The potential anachronisms are wittily handled: there is a police officer called “Captain Prince”, and both “sword” and “longsword” are brands of gun, which is a stroke of genius. The narration, of course, falls to a newsreader. As for the cast, Homeland’s very own Claire Danes is superb, Leonardo di Capio is decent enough, and Miriam Margolyes is Miriam Margolyes. Basically, it rules. There are even nice little in-jokes on the billboards for us Shakespeare geeks.

It’s great to see the imagination on display for the set pieces- the initial Montague ? Capulet scrap happens, with guns, in a petrol station, and it all feels uncannily like the climax to an episode of The A-Team. We have the gayest Mercutio ever, allusions to ecstasy (how very ‘90s), a hugely gay party at the Capulets’ crib, and lots of colour and spectacle.

Even so, this is Romeo and Juliet, a play written about two young lovers, disturbingly early on in their teens, who die tragically because Romeo is pretty damn stupid. There’s lots and lots of Catholic imagery, of course, and I’m reminded that Father Lawrence is a suspiciously positive depiction of a Catholic priest for Elizabethan England, which reminds one of the theories on Shakespeare’s supposed Catholicism. Be that as it may, it’s weird to see Pete Postlethwaite doing an American accent.

It’s a brilliant depiction of the play, right down to the closing titles happening to Radiohead’s Exit Music for a Film.

No comments:

Post a Comment