William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet

Baz Luhrmann
Running Time
120 mins

There’s more than a whiff of Trendy Vicar Syndrome about Strictly Ballroom director Baz Luhrmann’s frantically edited, visually stunning MTV-era R&J which keeps the Bard’s 16th century dialogue intact, if heavily abridged, in a Verona Beach (sic) setting replete with helicopters, gunfights, explosions, the obligatory black police chief, an E-crazed Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio), a drag-queen Mercutio (Harold Perrineau), and church choirs apt to break into hip-hop renditions of When Doves Cry at the merest hint of a sweeping dolly shot.

But in contrast to the contemporaneous Richard Loncraine/Ian McKellen version of Richard III, which relied on a sturdy cast of seasoned thesps to translate the language to a new setting, Luhrmann’s highly stylised direction is bigger than either of the lead performances here. DiCaprio and Claire Danes were both fine, charismatic young actors at this stage in their careers. Next to old hands like Pete Postlethwaite as Father Laurence and Miriam Margolyes as Juliet’s nurse, however, they seem to be struggling.

By robin askew, Friday, Jan 3 2020

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