Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet fall in love against the wishes of their feuding families. Driven by their passion, the young lovers defy their destiny and elope, only to suffer the ultimate tragedy.
The location photography and the beautiful score from Nino Rota help make this, for my money, the best screen adaptation of this most tragic of Shakesperian tragedies. Add to those classic elements, a really strong cast that mixes new blood with those more experienced and we get a properly heart-rending iteration. The constantly feuding "Montague" and "Capulet" families dominate society in Verona. Despite this long standing animosity, the curious and charming young "Romeo" (Leonard Whiting) risks life and limb to attend the "Capulet" masked ball. It is there that he encounters the beauty that is "Juliet" (Olivia Hussey) and the two embark on a relationship that puts both themselves and their friends in great peril. Over the course of the next 2¼ hours, Franco Zeffirelli immerses us in the greatest love story in English literature, tempered with jealously and intolerance, petty vengeances and loads of humour as the youngsters struggle to comprehend the reason for this historic vendetta. Whiting has a freshness and exuberance as the young "Romeo" - his effort here makes it easy to see why "Juliet" would be drawn to his attractive boyishness. Miss Hussey, too, brings an innocence and optimism to her performance that, when the two share the screen, is really quite engaging to watch. To be honest, some of the supporting cast were a bit on the theatrical side - especially Robert Stephens' "Prince" and Michael York doesn't really shine in the crucial role of "Tybalt", but to compensate there are lively contributions from Pat Heywood as the nurse - always a fun character with this author; Milo O'Shea works well as "Friar Laurence" as does John McEnery as "Mercutio". It takes only a few liberties with the original script, and so the story flows along towards it's well known ending much as William Shakespeare might have imagined, which adds great richness to a dialogue that does require concentration, but is well worth the effort in the end.