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Movie ReviewsRating: 1 of 5 yaps

Romeo and Juliet

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Julian Fellowes and Carlo Carlei: a plague on both your houses.

Sir Julian, you are an excellent writer, director and creator of the much-loved television series “Downton Abbey.” However, you are not the Bard. You are not even close. With that in mind, it’s completely presumptuous of you to pen this “Romeo and Juliet” with a hybrid of Shakespeare’s words and your own. Were you trying to make this ancient tale more relatable to today’s youth?

Consider the Franco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann film versions that preceded yours, both of which used the original text to tremendous effect. Shakespeare’s language doesn’t need to be dumbed down. Yes, it carries much symbolism and hidden meaning, but spoken out loud by skilled actors (though that’s another issue here), it’s a living, breathing entity that illustrates every essential thought, emotion and plot point all by itself. Plus, by interjecting your own verse, you are messing up the meter. Your screenplay sounds like “Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits” mixed with the first draft of a “Game of Thrones” episode. It’s wrong on levels I cannot even articulate other than the word “yuck.”

Mr. Carlei, so unbearably clueless is your interpretation that I wonder if you have even read the original play. Yes, it is pretty to watch — the towering architecture, the sparkling jewels, the rich colors and fabrics — but aesthetics only go so far to compensate for the slowest-paced “Romeo and Juliet” I’ve ever witnessed.

Not to mention the utter lack of passion, a quality that makes this story a classic. Christian Cooke’s Mercutio, normally such a dynamic and fascinating character, is practically a non-entity. Benvolio is not only bland but played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, who looks about 12 years old compared to Douglas Booth’s Romeo. I never thought the controlling blowhard Lord Capulet could be so milquetoast until I watched Damian Lewis play him.

All of these whitewashed renditions, however, pale in comparison to the two lead characters and their utter lack of chemistry. Though Hailee Steinfeld tries her best as Juliet, her delivery is all wrong and worst of all, the pair’s kisses look forced and uncomfortable. Mr. Carlei, it’s difficult for the audience to invest in literature’s most tragic love story when the couple can’t convince us that they are, in fact, in love.

Before either of you attempt Shakespeare again (and believe me, I’m not encouraging it), please consider the following: It’s better not to use the original language at all than mix it with your own. Just because something looks good doesn’t give it dramatic weight. And please, please don’t cast “Gossip Girl’s” Ed Westwick in a bad wig. Otherwise, I might be forced to cast another plague.

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