Romeo and Juliet (1968 film)
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The film was directed by Franco Zeffirelli, and stars Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design; it was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture. Sir Laurence Olivier spoke the film's prologue and epilogue and reportedly dubbed the voice of the Italian actor playing Lord Montague, but was never credited in the film.
The story begins in the town’s Market Square, where a small fracas begins between men of both houses, until Benvolio, a cousin of the Montagues, attempts to stop it. The frenzied fighting continues until Verona’s ruler Prince Escalus and his guardsmen, in battle array, arrive on horseback and order all involved to throw their weapons to the ground. He rebukes both lords for disturbing the peace for the third time, and threatens them with death should it ever happen again.
Later that day, Capulet, fresh from his dressing down at the Prince’s castle, briefly discusses with Count Paris (Roberto Bisacco) about being a suitor for Juliet, Capulet’s only remaining daughter. He suggests that Paris win her affection at a feast Capulet is having at his house that night.
At dusk, Romeo, son of Lord Montague, Benvolio, and a jokester named Mercutio, a cousin to the Prince and Romeo’s best friend, lead a group of Montague men, all wearing masks, to enter the party at Capulet House uninvited.
It is during the party that Romeo and Juliet first see each other. There is an immediate attraction between the two, but Tybalt recognizes Romeo and protests angrily to Lord Capulet, his uncle. Conversely, Lord Capulet, knowing of Romeo’s decent behavior and mannerly reputation, and also wanting to avoid more trouble with the Prince, orders a seething and defiant Tybalt to ignore him. But Lady Capulet, still angry at her husband for his involvement in the street brawl earlier in the day, intercedes to stop their talk.
Later, as the party winds down, both Romeo and Juliet each learn separately that each is the others’ enemy, but the information is too little and too late as the love they have for each other is already too strong. As the partygoers make their way home, Romeo climbs over a wall, abandoning Mercutio and the others, not knowing until he sees Juliet on her balcony that he has ventured stealthily into Capulet’s garden. The two proclaim their love for one another, and Juliet tells Romeo that if his intentions are good (i.e., marriage), to send word to her by an acquaintance the next morning, but she adds quickly that if his intentions are anything less, he is to forget her and leave her alone.
The two separate at daybreak, with a jubilant Romeo going directly to the cell of Friar Laurence to tell him of his intentions. The Friar is convinced that marrying the two will ultimately bring a permanent end to the long years of bloodshed between the Capulets and the Montagues. Juliet later goes to the Friar’s cell and is married to Romeo.
Tybalt is still angry about Romeo’s intrusion and his own humiliation at Capulet’s party the night before. Romeo, just after his clandestine wedding to Juliet, arrives in the Square to meet with his friends, only to be intercepted by Tybalt who challenges him. Romeo refuses Tybalt with a handshake instead. Mercutio jumps out of the fountain and, despite Romeo’s protesting, challenges Tybalt and the two draw their swords and start fighting.
As Romeo tries to get between the two of them Tybalt, albeit accidentally, stabs Mercutio in his chest. Everyone, save for Romeo and Benvolio, thinks Mercutio is still joking until Romeo removes Mercutio’s handkerchief exposing the fatal wound. It is only at this painfully shocking moment that they all realize that Mercutio, in his very final moments, was serious.
In a sudden fit of vengeful rage, Romeo returns angrily Tybalt’s original challenge to draw. Romeo kills Tybalt in the duel.
The news of Tybalt’s death spreads rapidly. Lady Capulet demands Romeo’s execution, but the Prince, reminding them all that it was Tybalt that killed Mercutio, asks who should answer for Mercutio’s death. Angered but barely maintaining his temper, the Prince orders that Romeo be banished from Verona, but adds quickly that Romeo will indeed be executed if found inside the city.
The two secret newlyweds consummate their marriage in Juliet’s bedchamber before Romeo begins his exile. Immediately after Romeo leaves, Lady Capulet arrives and tells Juliet of the plans she and Lord Capulet have made — to give Juliet to Count Paris in marriage, but Juliet, still tearful, refuses the arrangement angrily. When Lady Capulet complains to Lord Capulet, he rushes into Juliet’s bedroom and gives her an ultimatum: Either marry Count Paris or be disowned. Crying, Juliet pleads for her mother to delay the marriage, but she refuses her daughter's request and coldly rejects her.
Juliet tearfully begs the Friar to help her, swearing that she will kill herself rather than being forced to marry Paris. The Friar devises a plan: When Juliet returns home, she is to ask forgiveness from her parents and consent to the arranged marriage. The next night, when she is alone in bed, she is to take a potion made by the Friar himself, who we learn is a skilled apothecary, that simulates death for forty-two hours. While Juliet is under the potion’s spell, the Friar will send news to Romeo telling him of his plan, having him come back to meet him in the tomb. There the two men will wait until Juliet awakens, and then Romeo and Juliet, together this time permanently, will flee to Mantua.
Juliet performs her part of the plan perfectly. Friar Laurence dispatches an apprentice via donkey to Mantua with a letter for Romeo detailing the Friar’s plans. As Juliet’s body is being interred into the Capulet family tomb, Romeo’s servant Balthasar, who knows nothing about the Friar’s plan, witnesses the proceedings from nearby, and via horseback travels to Mantua and tearfully tells Romeo what he saw, all before the arrival of the Friar’s messenger. At nightfall, Romeo and Balthasar arrive at the entrance to Capulet’s Tomb. Romeo ventures inside alone, and after grieving over Juliet’s “corpse”, drinks a vial of strong poison, which kills him quickly.
Moments later, Friar Laurence makes his way to the tomb, only to be intercepted by Balthasar, who informs the Friar that Romeo is already there. Juliet wakes from her deep sleep with the Friar at her side, who informs her that something went wrong and begs her to come away with him. But when Juliet sees Romeo’s body, she refuses to leave, and the Friar runs out of the tomb in terror. Now alone, Juliet wails over Romeo’s body and, hearing the Prince's watchmen approach, grabs Romeo’s dagger and plunges it into her own heart, falling across his body.
At daybreak, the bodies of the two lovers side by side are carried up the steps of Verona's church, where the Prince awaits the twin processions. Prince Escalus implores the two Lords to see the results of their hatred and declares that everyone has been punished - there is not any reason for more fighting or resentment. At this, the two warring families finally make peace.
- Leonard Whiting as Romeo Montague
- Olivia Hussey as Juliet Capulet
- John McEnery as Mercutio
- Milo O'Shea as Friar Laurence
- Pat Heywood as The Nurse
- Robert Stephens as Prince Escalus
- Michael York as Tybalt
- Bruce Robinson as Benvolio
- Antonio Pierfederici as Lord Montague
- Esmerelda Ruspoli as Lady Montague
- Paul Hardwick as Lord Capulet
- Natasha Parry as Lady Capulet
- Roberto Bisacco as Paris
- Roy Holder as Peter
- Keith Skinner as Balthasar
- Laurence Olivier as Narrator
Differences from the original play
While based on the original play, numerous small details were changed in the film's story. However, this is also true of numerous Shakespeare films made by a famous directors, including Laurence Olivier's versions of Henry V, Hamlet and Richard III, of the 1999 version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, of the widely criticized Orson Welles Macbeth, and especially of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. Many of the same small changes in this adaptation were also made in Romeo + Juliet.
|In the play...||In the film...|
|Rosaline (Romeo's unrequited love) is unseen in the play. Yet she is expected to be at the feast and this is why Romeo attends it as well.||Rosaline can be found at Capulet's feast. (She also appears in the 1954 film version.) It becomes evident at the feast Romeo is not the only one whom Rosaline shuns; she has multiple potential suitors doting on her, none of which she shows any interest in, though she seems to enjoy basking in the attention she's getting.|
|At the feast, when Tybalt recognizes Romeo, he is ready to kill him on the spot ("to strike him dead I'll hold it not a sin"), but he is intercepted by Lord Capulet.||Tybalt instead runs to Lord Capulet to protest Romeo's presence.|
|Tybalt deliberately stabs Mercutio in the chest and retreats, but after Mercutio's off-stage death, Tybalt returns intending to kill Romeo.||The stab wound is accidental (known only to Tybalt and a few of his men), and Romeo chases the retreating Tybalt.|
|After Mercutio is stabbed, he exits with Benvolio. Benvolio then re-enters to tell Romeo of Mercutio's death.||Mercutio dies in front of Romeo and Benvolio, without exiting.|
|Immediately following the fight between Romeo and Tybalt (and Romeo's quick exit), both house lords and ladies and the Prince arrive on the fight scene.||Following Juliet and her Nurse's grieving, the scene is instead shifted to the steps of the prince's palace.|
|Just before he leaves Verona after being exiled by the Prince, Romeo bids Juliet farewell on her balcony. The lovers are traditionally fully clothed although it is the morning after their wedding.||In the Zeffirelli film, this scene takes place largely in Juliet's bedroom, with Romeo half-dressed and Juliet lying nude in bed after their wedding night. Only the last part of this scene takes place on the balcony, as in the play.|
|Juliet's arranged marriage to Count Paris is scheduled for a Thursday, but after Juliet's "repentance", an overjoyed (and overzealous) Lord Capulet moves the wedding day up to Wednesday.||The wedding remains scheduled for Thursday.|
|Juliet delivers a lengthy speech, commonly known as The Potion Scene, before drinking the sleeping potion.||Juliet simply says: "Love give me strength" before drinking the potion.|
|Friar John (the unnamed donkey-riding messenger in the film) cannot get Friar Laurence's message to Romeo because he finds himself involved in a quarantine, and instead returns the letter to Friar Laurence.||Balthasar, galloping on horseback to tell Romeo of Juliet's "death", passes the unhurried messenger on the road. Later on, as Romeo and Balthasar ride back to Verona, they pass by the messenger, who is obliviously making adjustments to the cargo on his donkey.|
|After hearing of Juliet's "death", Romeo buys a vial of poison from a Mantuan apothecary before riding back to Verona.||The scene was eliminated and was replaced by Balthasar and Romeo riding to Capulets' tomb; though it is still daylight as they ride back to Verona, night has already fallen when they arrive. It is never revealed in the film where Romeo got the poison from.|
|At the entrance to Capulet's tomb following Juliet's interrment, Romeo is intercepted by Count Paris, who tries to arrest the fugitive Romeo, but Romeo draws on Paris and kills him (in the final scene, the Prince, referring to losing "a brace of kinsmen", also referred to Paris as well as Mercutio).||That scene was eliminated altogether, but the Prince's line at the end was not changed. Reference to the scene was made in the souvenir program for the film, however, indicating that it may have been filmed, but deleted before the final release.|
|Near the end, following Romeo's and Juliet's respective suicides, Friar Laurence, arrested and brought back to the tomb by the Prince's Watchmen, reveals to the Prince, both Lords and Lady Capulet the truth of Romeo & Juliet's clandestine wedding and his other plans. (His story is confirmed by a letter intended for Lord Montague that Romeo had given to Balthasar.)||The Friar is not seen or heard from again after fleeing in terror from the tomb, and thus the revelation of the secret marriage is never shown in the film, though both houses evidently know about Romeo and Juliet's marriage by the time of the double funeral.|
|In the tomb, we learn through Lord Montague that his wife died of a broken heart upon learning of her son Romeo's banishment.||Lady Montague is still alive in the final scene at the church.|
|The play ends in Capulet's Tomb.||The final scene (the double funeral) unfolds at the steps to Verona's church. After the Prince's reprimand of both families, they exit, without reconciliation by the two fathers. The end credits are visible as processions from both houses make their way side by side into the church.|
|The final line ("...for never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo") is recited by the Prince.||The unseen narrator who performed the introduction ("Two households, both alike in dignity...") also gives the closing lines.|
Set in a 15th-century Renaissance period, Romeo & Juliet was filmed entirely in Italy in varying locations:
- The balcony scene: At the Palazzo Borghese, built by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the 16th century, in Artena, 20 miles south of Rome.
- The church scenes: At a Romanesque church named St. Pietro in Tuscania, 50 miles northwest of Rome.
- The tomb scene: Also in Tuscania.
- The palace of the Capulets scenes: At Palazzo Piccolomini, built between 1459-62 by Pope Pius II, in the city of Pienza, in Siena province.
- The street scenes: Also in Pienza.
- The fight scenes: In Gubbio, a town in Umbria province.
Controversial rating distinctions
The film was once rated G in the United States, but was later re-rated M (now known as PG) primarily because of a nude scene featuring Hussey. Zeffirelli had to get permission for Hussey to appear nude in the film as she was only 15 years old at the time.
The film's "Romantic theme", written by Nino Rota, is widely recognized in the UK because of its use by the disc jockey Simon Bates in his "Our Tune" feature. There have been several different versions of the song released in the U.S., the most successful by Henry Mancini, whose instrumuntal rendition of the theme became a number one success in the United States during June 1969. There were two different sets of English lyrics to the song. The film's version is called "What Is a Youth", with lyrics by Eugene Walter. An alternate version, called "A Time for Us", featured lyrics penned by Larry Kusik and Eddie Snyder. A third version is called "Ai Giochi Addio" with lyrics by Elsa Morante, and has been performed by opera singers such as Luciano Pavarotti and Natasha Marsh. Josh Groban performed another version titled "Un Giorno Per Noi", an Italian version of "A Time For Us".!