You could just about make a case for a traditional rendering of Shakespeare’s youthful love story to counter the wizzy modern Baz Luhrmann version from the mid-1990s – but playing it dead straight puts the onus on the young cast to measure up to the verse. If they can’t make Shakespeare’s language their own, the passionate, tragic emotions on the page simply become the stuff of cliché – making ‘Wherefore art thou, Romeo?’ ripe for comedic piss-takery.
Sadly, Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld just don’t measure up to the task as the star-crossed lovers. They present us with a boyband Romeo and a prom queen Juliet, and their delivery of the verse is so underwhelming that director Carlo Carlei often smothers the dialogue with one of the gloopiest film scores in recent memory. That only makes matters even worse, and while the grown-ups in the cast – nurse Lesley Manville, friar Paul Giamatti, anguished father Damian Lewis – are all splendid, ‘Downton Abbey’ writer Julian Fellowes’s trimmed-down version of the play comes across as decidedly insignificant, even if the historic Italian settings are gorgeous.
Where was Kenneth Branagh when we needed him?