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Film / Romeo and Juliet (1968)

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Romeo and Juliet is a 1968 film directed by Franco Zeffirelli, based on the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

It stars Leonard Whiting as Romeo and Olivia Hussey as Juliet, and was the first major production to cast actual teenagers in the roles.

The supporting cast included Michael York as Tybalt. Laurence Olivier giving the opening and closing narration, and also dubbed the voice of the Italian actor who played Lord Montague. Bruce Robinson, who plays Benvolio, went on to a long career as a screenwriter and director of movies like Withnail and I. Nino Rota composed the score.

The film gained a measure of infamy at the time for featuring teen-aged Romeo and Juliet partially naked during a scene (the urban legend that Hussey was refused entry into the film because she wasn't old enough is almost certainly false).

It was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for cinematography and costume design. Compare the 1936 version, Romeo and Juliet, and the 1996 version, William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet.

This film contains examples of:

  • Accent Adaptation: Despite being set (and filmed in) Italy, the majority of characters speak with English RP accents - the Capulets all speaking much posher than the Montagues. The Nurse as a servant is given a light cockney accent, while Friar Lawrence is given an Irish one.
  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • When the Nurse is listing through things Juliet did when she was three, and makes inappropriate jokes, Lady Capulet is scandalized. But Juliet just giggles.
    • When Mercutio mocks the Nurse, and spins her around, the other men joined in on the teasing, and both Romeo, and the Nurse's servant Peter, just stood by and laughed along. When the Nurse later asked why neither Romeo nor Peter did anything to help her, both men responded with just this.
  • Adaptational Heroism: A mild case with Tybalt. Tybalt is often played as a dead-eyed killer out for Montague blood, as he is in both the 1936 and 1996 films. But in this movie he's more of a boisterous youth. He is laughing and having fun during the duel with Mercutio, and he has a My God, What Have I Done? look of horror on his face when he sees blood on his sword and realizes that he has stabbed Mercutio for real.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: According to the text of Arthur Brooke’s poem, Shakespeare’s source, Juliet is golden-haired. Here she has dark hair.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The film adds extra scenes not in the text.
    • At the masquerade, a Capulet singer called Leonardo sings a song called "What is a Youth", which segues into the lovers' first lines together.
    • Before he leaves Verona, Romeo is seen bidding goodbye to Benvolio.
    • Juliet's first funeral is shown, and Balthasar witnesses the burial.
    • The ending adds in a funeral scene for Romeo and Juliet, showing the reactions of characters like Lady Capulet, Benvolio, the Nurse and Balthasar.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication:
    • Rosaline is not mentioned in Benvolio and Romeo's first scene, and most of the dialogue relating to her is cut. This makes it look like the Montagues decide to crash the masquerade ball for no particular reason. Rosaline does appear onscreen; Romeo is briefly taken aback to see her (actress Paola Tedesco, uncredited) at the Capulet party, only to pay her no more heed when he sees Juliet behind her.
    • The scene where Romeo goes to the apothecary and procures some poison is cut from the movie. Instead, he simply produces it out of nowhere and drinks it in the Capulet tomb.
    • At the end, the Prince laments that he has lost "a brace of kinsmen." A "brace" is a pair, but the Prince has seemingly lost only one kinsman, Mercutio, leaving the audience to wonder who the other kinsman was. This is because the adaptation has cut the death of the Prince's other kinsman, County Paris, but neglected to change the Prince's speech accordingly.
  • Adaptational Jerkass:
    • In the play, Mercutio merely mocks the Nurse. Here, he grabs onto her dress and spins her around, mocking her as she falls. Benvolio qualifies too, as he joined in on the teasing. Technically all of the guys in that scene, including Romeo qualify as they all laughed and played along with it.
    • In the play, Tybalt returns to the scene after killing Mercutio, and Romeo kills him in a duel. Here, Romeo chases Tybalt down in almost a berserker rage.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Tybalt is more of a bioisterous fun-loving youth and has a look of horror on his face when he realizes he stabbed Mercutio, suggesting that he never intended to hurt anyone. In the play, he stabs Mercutio with a cheap shot.
  • Affectionate Gesture to the Head: The Nurse comforts Benvolio this way in the end scene.
  • Age Lift:
    • Juliet is subtly aged up to be played by a sixteen-year-old actress (though dialogue about her being nearly fourteen was kept).
    • The Nurse if compared to other adaptations, which cast older grandmotherly women. Pat Heywood was only 36, though that's actually most likely the correct age for the character in the original text.
  • All Part of the Show: Everyone thinks at first that Mercutio, the local Sad Clown, is joking around after being injured by Tybalt; it is only when they check on him they realize that his injuries are fatal.
  • Balcony Wooing Scene: You can't make a Romeo and Juliet movie without one. This particular staging of the famous balcony scene uses the setting so that Juliet can bend over the balcony in a low-cut dress and dangle her cleavage for the camera. This, in combination with Letting Her Hair Down (in previous scenes Juliet wore prim dresses and kept her hair in a braid), adds sexual tension to the scene where Romeo woos her and they proclaim their love.
  • Blah, Blah, Blah: A scene starts with Mercutio saying "Blah blah blah" instead of engaging with the conversation Benvolio's trying to have with him.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Male example. Mercutio (blond), Benvolio (brunet) and Romeo as light brown substituting redhead.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The Capulets wear red and the Montagues blue (or sometimes green), and the Prince's family wear somber, dark browns. That is, until the final scene of Romeo and Juliet's funeral, when the newly reconciled Capulets and Montagues both wear black instead.
  • Color-Coded Patrician: The Prince wears deep purple, setting him apart from the blue Montagues and red Capulets.
  • Come Back to Bed, Honey: Staging Act III, Scene V as Romeo and Juliet lolling in bed together makes the scene into this. Juliet's "Wilt thou be gone?...Stay yet" becomes her telling Romeo to come back to bed for more sex.
  • Costume Porn: The Renaissance costumes are absolutely breathtaking and absolutely period-accurate, with hundreds of yards of elaborately pleated cotton velvet on the women and raunchy, colourful tights and codpieces on the men. It deservedly won an Oscar for Best Costume Design.
  • Crying Wolf: Mercutio is a melodramatic jokester, so when he gets into a mock fight with Tybalt and screamed that he is dying, while making witticisms about his injury, all of his friends laugh at him. He is, in fact, dying.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Both the Capulets and Montagues bring their freshly dead relations (namely, Tybalt and Mercutio) and lay them out in the square, in the scene where the two families are both demanding vengeance from the Prince.
  • Decomposite Character: The Prince doesn't say the "for never was a story of more woe" line in the end, which is given to the narrator.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Straight from the play. The final tragedy only plays out because the Friar by random chance gets stuck in a plague-stricken town that has been put under quarantine, and as a result can't get his crucial message to Romeo.
  • Doesn't Know Their Own Child: After she sends the Nurse out so she can talk to Juliet about an arranged marriage, Lady Capulet realizes that she doesn't really know how to talk to her and calls the Nurse back.
  • Establishing Character Moment: When Romeo is first seen, he's walking back to town from the forest...and he's smelling a wildflower that he picked. He's established as a sensitive sort.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: A tolling bell ushers in the dead lovers' bodies in the final scene.
    • Early in the film, when Romeo has his "for my mind misgives" speech in which he feels that something is going to go wrong that night and lead to "some vile forfeit of untimely death", a bell tolls ominously. Then he goes into the party where he meets Juliet.
  • Gag Haircut: At one point during his duel with Mercutio, Tybalt cuts a chunk of his hair with a sword and draws laughter from the onlookers.
  • Gendered Insult: After Romeo is sobbing over being exiled from Verona and then grabs a dagger to kill himself, Friar Lawrence slaps him down, rebuking him for "womanish" tears, saying he needs to act like the man he is.
  • Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks: Friar Lawrence has a desk covered in quite a few interesting-looking (and impractical) retorts and bottles, shown prominently during the scene where he is giving Juliet the sleeping potion. The shots of Juliet from Lawrence's P.O.V. make a point of showing her surrounded on all sides by the Italian Renaissance-era style glassware. Interestingly one of the items is a very anachronistic modern Erlenmeyer flask filled with blue liquid.
  • Headbutt of Love: Romeo and...Mercutio, actually, after Romeo snaps Mercutio out of the babbling nonsense which is his "Queen Mab" rant, by grabbing him and saying "Peace, Mercutio, peace...thou talkst of nothing."
    • They do this again when a dying Mercutio puts his arm around Romeo's neck and asks why he came between Mercutio and Tybalt.
  • Hollywood Old: A justified example. The Nurse is played by Pat Heywood at 36...which is actually the age she most likely is in the text.
  • Hot-Blooded: Most of the main characters. This film was famous for averting the invokedDawson Casting that was near-universal in earlier Romeo and Juliet adaptations and actually casting young people in the main roles: 17-year-old Olivia Hussey, 18-year-old Leonard Whiting, 25-year-old John McEnery (Mercutio), 26-year-old Michael York. This choice makes a big difference onscreen, making the whole story more natural, a play about impetuous Hot-Blooded youth getting carried away with hormones and clan rivalries.
  • Hotter and Sexier: This film cast two attractive young actors and then took advantage of the end of The Hays Code to include brief nudity from Juliet and rather more prolonged nudity from Romeo, and also restaged their last scene together to show them in bed, when the play's stage directions only say "at the window". As a result it's Hotter and Sexier than any stage or screen adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that preceded it.
  • Impairment Shot: A camera shot from Mercutio's POV blurring and then coming back into focus is used to show that he is dying.
  • Improvised Weapon: Mercutio and Tybalt briefly fight with farm tools.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Both Romeo and Juliet cry this way.
  • Insert Cameo: During the Sword Fight, when Mercutio throws a sword at Tybalt's feet, Mercutio's shadow is actually Franco Zeffirelli's shadow standing in for him because John McEnery was sick that day (according to Michael York's autobiography).
  • Irish Priest: Friar Lawrence is given an Irish accent, the only character with such an accent in the film. He's actually played by Irish actor Milo O'Shea.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Juliet is introduced with her hair braided and wears it so for the masquerade. The first time we see it down is for the balcony scene.
  • Maid and Maiden: Juliet is the maiden and her nurse is the old maid who is her caretaker and confidante.
  • Manly Tears: Benvolio in an added scene where he says goodbye to Romeo after the latter is banished.
  • Match Cut: From Lord Capulet embracing Juliet as she pretends to agree to the wedding with Paris, to Lady Capulet doing the same.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Juliet in the bedroom scene, although she does give the audience a brief flash of her nipples when she gets up to change.
  • Mortal Wound Reveal: Mercutio's death is played as this, although it's Romeo who reveals the mortal wound after Mercutio is dead.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Tybalt looks shocked when he actually kills Mercutio.
  • Nouveau Riche: This is how the Capulets (Juliet's family) are depicted, reflected in their stylistic choices. The Capulets and their retainers are dressed in loud, bright colors, while the Montagues (the older and more respected family of Romeo) favor more conservative clothing hues.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The film removes large chunks of dialogue from key scenes to better get across the passion and intensity of the moment (more dialogue works better in theatre rather than film) - including most of the lines after the two lovers die. Paris's death in the tomb was also cut to better serve the running time. Juliet is also played by a sixteen-year-old actress and portrayed as older, rather than thirteen as in the text.note 
  • Sad Clown:
    • Mercutio. He's the jokester among Romeo's friends, cracking jokes that amuse them and is constantly sarcastic. At heart though he's troubled for unspecified reasons, and briefly shows it during his speech on Queen Mab, covering this with humor. When he's mortally wounded, he angrily denounces both Montagues and Capulets.
    • The Nurse becomes this by the final scene. We see her ashen-faced and trying to comfort Benvolio as she accompanies the funeral procession inside.
  • Signature Headgear: Lady Capulet is never seen without a fancy headdress on.
  • Silence Is Golden: The ending has very little in the way of dialogue compared to the original text's ending.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • Paris' death is omitted. It was filmed but cut from the final piece.
    • This adaptation leaves out Lady Montague's Death by Despair and lets her mourn Romeo's death with her husband in the final scene.
    • If you go by the Quarto, Benvolio dies off-screen and is normally absent from the play's final scenes. The film shows him mourning Romeo and Juliet in the ending.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: The film makes a point of underscoring this on behalf of Olivia Hussey's Juliet. When she and Romeo first meet, we get a mind blowing close-up shot of Hussey's bright grey eyes.
  • Widow's Weeds:
    • Juliet's mother wears a black veil during Juliet's staged funeral.
    • In the final scene, all the Capulets and Montagues alike wear black during the real joint funeral of the two lovers.