Standard-Examiner

'Romeo and Juliet': 421 years of lasting love

Thursday , February 08, 2018 - 9:26 PM

William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," depicted in an 1857 engraving, has been retold in numerous modern films.

Photo supplied/Erica Guilane-Nachez/stock.adobe.com

William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," depicted in an 1857 engraving, has been retold in numerous modern films.

By SIENA CUMMINGS
TX. Correspondent

“Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene, from ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life ...”

The poetry that is the foundation of their lines, the dignity in their manner, and the love expressed between the title characters is what defines William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, based around a young, innocent love, and resulting in the death of Juliet Capulet and her one true love, Romeo Montague.

Formally published in 1597, Shakespeare’s tale of two doomed lovers is admired, cried over and known globally more than ever before. Required reading in junior high school and high school English classes, “Romeo and Juliet” is annotated and understood by students all across the country, teaching the importance of loyalty, the inevitable calamities that arise with prejudices, and the fact that true love is something genuinely worth fighting and sacrificing for.

“Romeo and Juliet” has been remade into screenplays and various adaptations fit for the screen more than 30 times. With Valentine’s Day upon us, let’s take a look at the best of these films.

Who knows, maybe one of these movies will speak to you and you won’t be forced to spend the holiday eating chocolate hearts and crying over not having a date. Instead, you can eat chocolate hearts and cry over Romeo and Juliet not getting together, no matter what version you’re watching!

1. “Romeo + Juliet” (1996)

Directed by Baz Luhrmann, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes

This version is undoubtedly my No. 1 pick, the first reason being, have you ever seen young Leonardo DiCaprio? Trust me, he makes a terrific Romeo. Besides that, this adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic puts the story into a new, modern setting, with the two families’ sons (Mercutio, Tybalt and Romeo) being separated into gangs and fighting one another with guns and blades, rather than fencing or swords.

I also prefer this film above others due to its scene of Romeo and Juliet’s suicides being unexpected and, in my opinion, better than in the story we all know by heart. In this version, Juliet awakens as Romeo finishes drinking the poison, and she sees his face express shock and horror as he realizes that she is still alive but he is now dying, to once again be separated from her. It may be overwhelmingly sad and difficult to watch, yet there’s so much more emotion to the scene and our two talented actors show off just how connected they are to their characters.

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2. “Romeo and Juliet” (1968)

Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey

This film celebrates its 50th anniversary this October, showing just how much impact it has had on pop culture. This version is the one most commonly shown in schools and is most accurate to Shakespeare’s play. I love the ballroom scene near the beginning of the movie, where Juliet and Romeo first meet. The costume design is absolutely elegant and the dances are extremely enjoyable to watch.

3. “Romeo & Juliet” (2013)

Directed by Carlo Carlei, starring Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld

This adaptation is the most recent, being just shy of five years old. Critic Sandy Schaefer, of Screen Rant, said of this motion picture, “It’s a respectable adaptation that most moviegoers (young and old) will be able to appreciate.” Directed by the same man who brought about the popular television series, “Downtown Abbey,” this film is filled to the brim with beautiful costumes and cinematography, and a closing shot that sends chills down your spine.

4. “Romeo and Juliet” (1955)

Directed by Leonid Lavrovsky and Lev Arnshtam, starring Yuri Zhdanov and Galina Ulanova

I mention this film because of its unique style and cast and crew of Russian performers, IMDb classifying the movie as a Soviet ballet. This adaptation tells Shakespeare’s tragedy through the expression of dance, with the Bolshoi Ballet performing throughout the film.

The true talent is found in the film’s leading lady, Galina Ulanova, who was a beautiful, talented, Russian ballerina, well-known across the world from her rise to fame in 1928, to attracting Joseph Stalin’s attention in 1944, to her passing in 1998. I’d honestly watch the film only to see Galina twirl and soar across the black and white screen, her acting elegant and her poise perfection.

5. “West Side Story” (1961)

Directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, starring Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood

Like Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet,” “West Side Story” is a musical in which a modern-day Romeo and Juliet are involved in the street gangs of New York City. Here, their names are not Romeo and Juliet; they are Tony and Maria. I’ve always been a sucker when it comes to musicals set and/or filmed in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and I also love the actors who portray Tony and Maria. Wood especially showed major depth and personality in her character.

Shakespeare’s tale of true love and the innocence of the young is what I hope comes to define Valentine’s Day. This holiday should not be based around who has a date with who, or if your boyfriend bought you a rose or teddy bear to show how much he loves you; this day should strive to embody what Romeo and Juliet expressed, that love prevails — even through death.

“A glooming peace this morning with it brings; the sun, for sorrow, will not show his head; go hence, to have more talk of these sad things; some shall be pardoned, and some punished: for never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” 

Siena Cummings is a freshman at Rocky Mountain Junior High School. Email her at cummingssi@wsdstudent.net.