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 dubbed the voice of the Italian actor playing Lord Montague, but was never credited in the film.
The film's "love 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 instrumental rendition of the theme became a number one hit in the United States in 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".
In recent days, the feud between the two houses has again flared up in its fury. The story opens in the town’s Market Square, where a small fracas breaks out between men of both houses, until Benvolio, a cousin to the Montagues, steps in to attempt to stop it. But he is soon taunted by the short-tempered Tybalt, an egotistical and rebellious cousin to the Capulets, who draws on Benvolio, and once again a small tiff quickly escalates into a full-blown street brawl, which soon includes both house lords themselves, swords in hand.
The frenzied fighting continues until Verona’s ruler Prince Escalus and his guardsmen in full 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. The Prince then orders all to return to their homes and then departs himself.
While tending to the wounded, Lady Montague asks about Romeo, who was not involved in the melee. Benvolio tells her of his being awake before sunrise and walking on the edge of town, where he briefly saw Romeo, who ran in the opposite direction when he saw Benvolio. When Romeo appears, Benvolio asks Lord and Lady Montague to leave them alone while he questions Romeo about his strange behavior. Romeo answers Benvolio's questions indirectly and is about to leave when more of the wounded Montague men are carried by. Embittered, Romeo storms off, but Benvolio follows.
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. But while Capulet reminds Paris that Juliet is still a young girl (nearly fourteen according to the storyline), he suggests that Paris take steps to win her affections at a feast Capulet is holding at his house that night.
While Lady Capulet is being primped and prepared for the feast, Juliet is summoned to her mother's presence by the Nurse. The interview begins slightly awkwardly between mother and daughter (Juliet seems more at ease with the Nurse, who in turn seems more affectionate than Juliet's mother), but Lady Capulet informs Juliet of Count Paris' interest and intentions. Juliet replies that she will be a dutiful daughter and "look to like" Paris, if she finds him attractive.
At nightfall Romeo, 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 crash the party at Capulet House. En route, Mercutio teases Romeo about being in love, and Romeo, in a moment to himself, confides that he has a strong feeling that something is going to happen that can only result in his untimely death. But putting his faith in God (“..but He that hath the steerage of my course, direct my sail.”), he joins the rest in crashing the party.
It is during the party that Romeo and Juliet first lay eyes on one another. There is an immediate attraction between the two, but Tybalt recognizes Romeo and angrily protests 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, steps in to shut them both up.
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, ditching 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 and solidify their love for one another, and Juliet tells Romeo that if his intentions are good (i.e., marriage), to send word to her through her contact the following morning, but she’s quick to add that if his intentions are anything less, he is to forget the whole thing and leave her alone.
The two part ways at daybreak, with a jubilant Romeo running directly to the cell of Friar Laurence to tell him of his intentions. At first the Friar storms away in disbelief, but soon has a change of heart — he becomes convinced that marrying the two will ultimately bring a permanent end to the long years of bloodshed between the Capulets and the Montagues. So the Friar agrees to perform the ceremony. Later that morning, Romeo meets with Juliet’s contact, whom we know to be her Nurse who relays the news to Juliet (this after being sexually teased and harassed by Mercutio). Juliet then makes her way to the Friar’s cell and, just like that, the two become man and wife.
Later that afternoon Benvolio, reeling from the heat and fearing another fight with the Capulets, begs Mercutio to leave with him from Market Square. But Mercutio, the heat getting to him as well, ignores Benvolio’s pleas and opts instead to jump into a nearby fountain to cool off. Moments later the two are accosted by a group of Capulets led by Tybalt, who is still angry over Romeo’s intrusion and his own humiliation at Capulet’s party the night before.
During the parlay Romeo, fresh from his clandestine wedding to Juliet, arrives in the Square to meet up with his friends, only to be intercepted by Tybalt who coldly calls him out. But Romeo, to Mercutio’s delight, turns Tybalt down with a handshake instead. Tybalt, feigning disgust at Romeo’s touching his hand, walks over to the fountain Mercutio is swimming in and washes his hand, deliberately splashing Mercutio and Benvolio before walking away laughing. For reasons known only to himself (his blood relation to The Prince might have been a factor), an offended Mercutio jumps out of the fountain and, despite Romeo’s protesting, calls Tybalt out and the two draw their swords and start fighting. Though it’s more of a friendly duel at first, Tybalt’s anger gradually gets the better of him when Mercutio gains the upper hand.
As Romeo tries to get between the two of them Tybalt, albeit accidentally, stabs Mercutio in his chest. Seeing blood on the tip of his blade, Tybalt panics, and his men convince him to run. The Montagues loudly cheer Mercutio’s “victory” while he futilely tells those nearby that he’s hurt. He angrily whispers to Romeo that Tybalt got him under Romeo's arm, but covers up the wound using his trademark handkerchief, loudly proclaims “a plague on both your houses”, and then collapses. Everyone, save for Romeo and Benvolio, thinks Mercutio is still joking until Romeo removes Mercutio’s kerchief exposing the fatal wound. It is only at this painfully shocking moment that they all realize that Mercutio, in his very final moments, was totally serious.
In a sudden fit of vengeful rage, Romeo grabs Mercutio’s blood-stained kerchief and takes off after the retreating Tybalt, with Benvolio and everyone else on his tail in a vain effort to stop him. Romeo catches up with Tybalt and, after telling of Mercutio’s death, angrily returns Tybalt’s original challenge to draw (by stuffing Mercutio's bloody kerchief into Tybalt's face). Unlike the previous duel, this one is all too real as the two renewed enemies duel furiously, with the fight finding its way back to Market Square.
At first the once-pacifistic Romeo seems in over his head against Tybalt’s swordsmanship. Nearing exhaustion but driven by deep anger over Mercutio's death, Romeo tries copying some of Tybalt's dueling moves only to be disarmed, and Tybalt later disarms himself trying to stick the downed Romeo. The fight deteriorates to fists and wrestling, but Tybalt, given another sword by one of his men, charges Romeo, again on the ground. But Romeo grabs Tybalt's lost rapier laying nearby, and a desperate thrust finds Tybalt's heart, and Tybalt falls dead. Romeo stands over Tybalt’s body in anguished disbelief as Benvolio screams at Romeo to run, reminding him the Prince will have his life if caught. The Montague men all grab Romeo and frantically drag him out of Market Square.
News of Tybalt’s death spreads rapidly. Juliet and her Nurse fall over each other in grief upon hearing the news, but Juliet quickly and viciously turns on the Nurse when she curses Romeo. Meanwhile, groups from both houses make their way to the steps of Verona Castle to summon the Prince’s judgment. A disheveled and naturally enraged Lady Capulet leads her group, who approach the castle carrying the corpse of Tybalt while Benvolio and Lord and Lady Montague lead their group to the castle from a different passageway carrying Mercutio’s body. The Prince asks Benvolio who started the deadly fight, but his explanation is somewhat drowned out by disbelieving laughs from the Capulets. 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. Lord Montague pleads for mercy for Romeo, saying that by taking Tybalt’s life Romeo only did what the law eventually would have done. Angered but barely maintaining his temper, the Prince orders that Romeo be banished from Verona, but is quick to add that Romeo will indeed be put to death if found inside the city. The Prince goes back inside the castle, but not before glaring at the defiant Lady Capulet for Tybalt’s killing of Mercutio.
Romeo, grieving over his banishment, takes temporary refuge at Friar Laurence’s cell when the Nurse comes with news of Juliet’s grieving- more for Romeo than Tybalt. At this news, Romeo almost stabs himself in self-loathing, but the Friar disarms him and angrily rebukes him for being unable to see how fortunate he is: that Juliet is alive, that Romeo himself survived the fight, and that the law merely banished him rather than execute him. The Friar sends the Nurse back to hasten everyone else in the house to bed early, and then instructs Romeo to go and comfort Juliet, but leave at daybreak for the nearby town of Mantua, and wait there for further word from the Friar.
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 in tears, angrily refuses the arrangement. When Lady Capulet complains to Lord Capulet, he explodes into Juliet’s bedroom and violently gives her an ultimatum: Either marry Count Paris or be disowned. Lord Capulet leaves still enraged and Lady Capulet refuses to help her daughter in any way. Juliet turns to the Nurse for comfort, but even she has had a change of heart about Romeo now that he is gone from Verona and counsels Juliet to marry Paris, saying that this second marriage would be better than Juliet's first. Incredulous, Juliet coldly orders the nurse to inform her parents that she is going to Friar Laurence for counseling and absolution.
Count Paris is consulting with the Friar as Juliet, in mourning dress, makes her way up the steps to his cell. After the Count leaves, Juliet tearfully begs the Friar to help her, swearing she will kill herself rather than be forced to marry Count 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 following 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 word 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 wakes up, and then Romeo and Juliet, together this time for good, will flee to Mantua.
Juliet carries out 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. Meanwhile, the Capulets, having found Juliet’s “body”, are once again faced with burying one of their own with Friar Laurence himself officiating over the “funeral”. 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 close by, and via horseback beats the Friar’s messenger to Mantua and tearfully tells Romeo what he saw. Angrily challenging the fates to do their worst, Romeo races back to Verona with Balthasar, passing Friar Laurence’s messenger who doesn’t even see them. At nightfall, Romeo and Balthasar arrive at the entrance to Capulet’s Tomb. Romeo ventures inside alone, and after grieving over Juliet’s “corpse” (and a brief apology to Tybalt, whose body lies on the slab next to Juliet's) drinks a vial of strong poison, which quickly kills him.
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. Suddenly afraid, the Friar enters the tomb and, seeing Romeo dead, finds his worst fears have been realized. 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, a double funeral as the bodies of the two lovers side by side (dressed in the same clothes they wore when they were married) with both Lords, Ladies and their Houses right behind, are carried up the steps of Verona's Temple, where the Prince awaits the twin processions. Prince Escalus implores the two Lords to see the results of their rank hatred and, after making mention of his own loss (meaning Mercutio), declares that everyone has been punished - there is no place for any more fighting or resentment. At this sobering point the two warring families finally make their long-overdue peace.
|In the play...|||In the film...|
|Rosaline (Romeo's unrequited love) is unseen in the play. Yet she 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.|
|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 Verona Castle.|
|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.|
|Friar John (the unnamed donkey-riding messenger in the film) cannot get Friar Lawrence's message to Romeo because he found himself involved in a quarantine, and instead returned 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 Capulet's 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 internment, 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 cut before the final release.|
|Near the end, following Romeo & 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 was never shown in the film, though both houses evidently knew 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 temple.|
|The play ends in Capulet's Tomb.||The final scene (the double funeral) unfolds at the steps to Verona's Temple. The end credits roll as processions from both houses make their way side by side into the temple.|
|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.|
|Milo O'Shea||Friar Lawrence|
|Robert Stephens||Prince Escalus|
|Paul Hardwick||Lord Capulet|
|Natasha Perry||Lady Capulet|
|Antonio Pierfederici||Lord Montague|
|Esmeralda Ruspoli||Lady Montague|
The film was once rated G in the United States, but was later re-rated PG (which, in 1968, was the only rating below R) primarily because of a nude scene featuring Hussey. Zeffirelli had to get special permission for Hussey to appear nude in the film as she was only 15 years old at the time. Hussey later amusingly recalled that she was not permitted to view the film because it contained her own breasts.
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