Shakespeare’s beloved classic gets the Julian Fellowes treatment in this swooning new adaptation from the Oscar- and Emmy-winning creator of Downton Abbey, directed by Italian director Carlo Carlei (The Flight of the Innocent) and starring Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) in the title roles. The first such screen adaptation actually shot in the Italian city of Verona where it takes place, the sumptuous all-star production co-stars Damian Lewis, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Tom Wisdom, Laura Morante and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
Any new screen approach to Romeo and Juliet, of course, faces daunting comparison not just with the beloved 1968 Franco Zeffirelli production but with that film’s immortal Nino Rota score. Credit Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski (A Single Man, Escape from Tomorrow) for courageously giving the new film a musical signature that not only defies such comparisons, but which embraces a bold new dramatic sensibility. Impassioned and grand where Rota was romantic and intimate, Korzeniowski deploys the full force of the orchestra in such tracks as “Forbidden Love,’ “A Thousand Times Goodnight” and the piano-accentuated “Death is My Heir,” trading Rota’s and Zeffirelli’s dreamy melancholia for an unapologetically bright and celebratory embrace of the tale’s tragic trajectory. Where Rota underlined the essential sadness of a great love cut short, Korzeniowski highlights the majesty and triumph of a great love that ought never have come to pass. The same approach imbues the story’s otherwise ominous narrative intrigues with the buoyancy of a dance – tracks like “The Cheek of Night,” the furious “Fortune’s Fool” and “Tempt Not a Desperate Man” generating an undertow of suspense in a film where few will not already know the outcome. It is an assured, bravura effort, scintillatingly orchestrated, invigoratingly executed.