The unrepentant romanticism of Franco Zefferelli's Romeo and Juliet works beautifully in translating William Shakespeare's tragic drama to the silver screen. The lyrical score of Academy Award-winner Nino Rota (The Godfather) and the voluptuous and magnificent period costumes by Danilo Donati combine with the sensuous and dusty cinematography of Pasqualino De Santis to evoke the Italian renaissance setting perfectly. Ever the traditionalist, Zefferelli took a consistently conventional approach to the production, with his only really daring move coming in the casting. For the first time in film, two teenage actors portray Shakespeare's tragic protagonists, and the employment of a cast rife with unknowns results in the film being a triumph of spirit and enthusiasm over technique. Simply put, neither Olivia Hussey as Juliet, nor Leonard Whiting as Romeo, are very skilled actors: Shakespeare's words are often garbled, and the actors' intonations are occasionally inappropriate. Still, Zefferelli manages to overcome his young star's lapses (their considerable physical charms help as well), not to mention the coincidence-filled and hole-ridden plot, to offer a film of great beauty, abundant energy, and deep sorrow. Furthermore, the desperate romanticism of the titular characters' final actions taps into adolescent society's deeply rooted rebelliousness that was finding popular expression at the time. Nominated for four Academy Awards (including Best Director and Best Picture), Romeo and Juliet was the winner of two, for Cinematography and Costume Design.
by Dan Jardine review