As you’re probably well aware, there are bazillions of versions of Romeo and Juliet on film. From the silent era through the present day, the pair has inspired countless adaptations from the faithful to the fun-house. Below I’m listing a few of my favorites, but please share your favorites in the comments!
When I was growing up, one of my favorite tapes to rent from Video Scene was the BBC Animated Romeo and Juliet featuring several famous voices and gorgeous animation by Christmasfilms. Using an abridgment of Shakespeare’s text, adapter Leon Garfield unfolded the tragic tale in under 30 minutes. It’s available on DVD, now, but preview it on YouTube!
The BBC Television Shakespeare series from the 1970’s might not be the most engaging to watch in its entirety, but if you’ve ever wanted to see a young Alan Rickman in tights as Tybalt, well, this version is a treat! No matter which scene you want to focus on, this full-text version is sure to have it, too. Keeping with the traditionally set, Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film is still held in high regard. It’s authenticity of setting and the leads’ ages, as well as the wonderful performances by the entire cast make it infinitely watchable, even today. (Though, of course, with at least one scene post-wedding edited out for classrooms!)
Some modern-setting versions have kept the original text, as well, most famously in Baz Luhrman’s 1996 version set in Verona Beach. Even while it pokes fun (the guns are named “Dagger” and “Longsword,” for example), the story, edited from Shakespeare’s text, moves with an intense urgency. Additionally, the independently conceived and filmed Private Romeo uses Shakespeare’s text with a group of army-school cadets left alone at their campus. While it falters in places, it’s beautiful to see these young men using Shakespeare’s words to express themselves.
Finally, there are some wonderful new stories inspired by Shakespeare’s inspiration to re-tell the timeless cautionary tale of two warring groups whose youthful innocents fall in love with each other. West Side Story is the most familiar along these lines, and is a theatrical hallmark in its own right. Comparing this musical to Shakespeare’s play when I was a kid is what led me to be so interested in adaptation as an art form. Potentially less-inspiring, however, it’s worth noting that both The Lion King II and Gnomeo and Juliet are also inspired by these themes, though with happier endings for their young audience.
There’s not much room to mention Shakespeare in Love, but I’m going to have to. It’s a funny and touching imagining of how young Will Shakespeare was inspired to write this famous play from his own romantic experience . It’s totally laughably historically inaccurate, of course, but it does not claim to be so and is, instead, a whimsical love-letter to the Bard.
This could go on and on, of course. There are ballets, operas, TV mini-series, anime series, and so many other milieus into which this play has been re-imagined. Sometimes these adaptations illuminate different facets of Shakespeare’s play for consideration the next time we study it. Do these examples fit the bill? Not always, but at least we can enjoy the ride. What is your favorite example of Romeo and Juliet on the big screen?