Romeo & Juliet: What to Know About This New Take on the Classic Tale

Excited to see the remake of the Shakespearean flick? Take a look at what you should know before hitting theaters

By Matt Stevens Oct 13, 2013 10:17 PMTags
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Star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet light up the silver screen again in Shakespeare's timeless tragedy. For those who skipped English Lit, the story is set in Verona, Italy, where the rival families of Montague and Capulet publicly fight in the streets. But, Romeo (Douglas Booth) of the Montagues has no interest in their ancient feud, especially after he meets and falls for Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld), a Capulet, at a masked ball. The two smitten kids secretly marry, but then a duel between the families turns deadly and Romeo gets banished from Verona. Distraught, Juliet turns to Friar Laurence (Paul Giamatti), who hatches a scheme to reunite the couple. Want to earn extra credit? Check out these five essential R&J facts:

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Wherefore Art Thou Romeo? 19-year-old British thespian Booth, who played Pip in BBC's terrific Great Expectations, beat out more than 300 other actors for the role of Romeo, the iconic lover and accomplished swordsman. His competition reportedly included Logan Lerman from The Perks of Being a Wallflower and two stars of The Hunger Games: Catching FireSam Claflin (Finnick) and Josh Hutcherson (Peeta). Next up, Booth will travel farther back in time to play one of Noah's sons in Darren Aronofsky's Noah

A Miscast Juliet: Steinfeld reportedly stepped in to play Juliet after Lily Collins (Mirror Mirror) dropped out. In a bit of coincidence, Collins was also rumored to star in Rosaline, a Romeo and Juliet spinoff about the woman Romeo loved before meeting Juliet. Steinfeld may have earned an Oscar nom for True Grit, but she's not ready to trade the Western duds and drawl for medieval dresses and poetic verse. The young actress made for a disappointing Juliet, struggling with the language and lacking real passion in scenes with Booth.

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Rewriting Shakespeare: Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey, Gosford Park) penned the R&J screenplay, adapting and updating the Bard's 16th-century play. Though a fan of Baz Luhrmann's contemporary interpretation (with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes), Fellowes opted for a more traditional approach and setting. The filmmakers even shot on location in Verona and other Italian cities. Still, scholars have accused Fellowes of taking too many liberties with Shakespeare's work and misleading viewers into thinking they're hearing the original text.

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Nudity Controversy: Fellowes' R&J script created a stir when excerpts were printed in British newspapers, including a scene of the newly wedded couple getting naked and making love. Several people — even the ladies of The View! — expressed concern that Steinfeld, who was 15 years old during filming, would show too much skin. But director Carlo Carlei explained that the script had been written with a 20-year-old actress in mind, and once Steinfeld came on board, they revised all scenes to be age-appropriate. Indeed, the most Steinfeld bares in the film is her shoulders.

A History of Tragedy: R&J marks the first big-screen adaptation of the Bard's play since Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet in 1996. But perhaps the best-known film version — and there have been many through the years, with the oldest dating back to around 1900 — is the 1968 production directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. (Like Steinfeld, Hussey was 15 years old when the movie was made though did appear nude.) Unfortunately, this new and lackluster interpretation adds little to the legacy.