Shakespeare 400 - Romeo + Juliet

Part of Shakespeare 400 On Screen, presented in association with the University of Ottawa

Shakespeare 400 logo by Sarah TuefeeThere is a supplementary bittersweet quality to Luhrmann’s Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet nearly 20 years after its release. The camera certainly loves Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, both luminous with youth and star power in this ode to teenage passion. Danes was still an actual teenager in 1996, and DiCaprio a baby-faced 21.

Poster art for Luhrmann's Romeo + JulietWhile neither was a newcomer when they were cast as Shakespeare’s tragic lovers, the audience’s awareness of their careers and lives since adds a certain poignancy to their performances. There is little chance to linger on that, though, in this fast-paced, MTV-influenced race through a visually spectacular, dystopian Verona Beach where gangsters in Aloha shirts speak in iambic pentameter while they scatter-shoot semi-automatic weapons.

Responsible for turning a generation on to the joys of the Bard, this film has worn better than the other teen adaptations like O or 10 Things I Hate About You and still packs an emotional punch.

– Kathryn Prince, University of Ottawa

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