In Shakespeare's classic play, the Montagues and Capulets, two families of Renaissance Italy, have hated each other for years, but the son of one family and the daughter of the other fall desperately in love and secretly marry.
The best word for this production is "servicable."
Take Shakespeare's most accessible play, add two leads and several supporting actors who know their jobs, and you get a watchable but somewhat lackluster performance. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with it; it simply lacks the star power, beauty and/or distinction of other, more famous versions.
To start with, the two "young" lovers (both in their mid-20s at the time of the shoot) do their best to portray teenage passion. Unfortunately for them, we've seen this done much better by actual teenagers - Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in the triumphant 1967 version by Franco Zefferelli. Even Clare Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio, in 1996's Romeo+Juliet, did a better job portraying adolescent hormones fueling the headlong rush into love.
Geraldine Somerville and Jonathan Firth, on the other hand, seem anchored in their own maturity and craft. There's no denying their skill or their commitment to the material, but they just don't sell themselves as teenagers. They seem more caught up in the beauty of Shakespeare's words than in the relationship those words portray.
The same problem dogs the supporting cast - especially Mercutio. Played well, he's one of the most fascinating characters Shakespeare has written. In this production, Ben Daniels turns his speeches into rants. Even his death scene falls flat.
The only real standouts are John Nettles and Jenny Agutter as Lord and Lady Capulet, and John Woodvine as Friar Lawrence. Fans of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" might be tempted to check this version out because Alexis Denisof (aka Wesley) is cast as Tybalt. However, he has little screen time and less screen presence in the production. Fans of the Harry Potter series will note that Sommerville made several brief appearances as Lily, Harry's mother.
To me, the amazing thing about Shakespeare is the way he illuminated real people with vibrant personalities who would not be out of place in the world today - and then gave them words that are among the most beautiful and eloquent ever penned. Too many productions focus on the gorgeous language and fail to delve into the people speaking. That's the key flaw in this production. It's not fatal, but there are better versions available.
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