Julian Fellowes brushes up his Shakespeare with this latest 'improvement' of Romeo and Juliet

Lord Fellowes has devoted himself to improving Shakespeare, just as the revisers of the Good News Bible helped out the authors appointed by King James.

Share

The loving couple look properly baby-faced for star-crossed lovers. The location is indeed Verona. And the lines are reverently intoned in the Hollywood manner traditionally used for great literature. But though the dialogue in the latest film of Romeo and Juliet, which opens next month, may sound like Shakespeare to some, it is in fact the latest creation of Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, better known as Julian Fellowes of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey. Those who believe the Earl of Oxford rather than a commoner must be the true author of Romeo and Juliet must be pleased to see a real lord, if only a life peer, given credit for this one.

Previous adaptations have either kept the Elizabethan lingo or, like West Side Story, gone wholly contemporary. Lord Fellowes, however, has devoted himself to improving Shakespeare, just as the revisers of the Good News Bible helped out the authors appointed by King James. Once Juliet drinks the potion, Friar Lawrence originally explains, “No warmth, no breath shall testify thou livest”; now he says “there will be no sign of life within you”. “Within?” Surely Juliet wants to fool her family, not an X-ray technician? “What have I done but murdered my tomorrow!” exclaims Romeo after dispatching Tybalt, instead of “Oh I am fortune’s fool!” Some may be grateful that Fellowes has modernised only to this extent and not gone all the way with respectively “This potion – no motion” and “Oh shit”.

Teachers steeling themselves for another year of this play, may wish that Fellowes had altered the tone as well as the words in competing with the man the film-makers describe, rather cautiously, as “the greatest playwright ever known”. To many teenagers whose grasp of modern, let alone Elizabethan, English is shaky, Fellowes’s Shakespearish may seem near enough to the real thing for the two to be confused. Romantic young girls to whom one  old-timey line is much like another, may believe that Romeo has for hundreds of years enthralled his love with “If your heart like mine is full, then tell the joy that awaits us this night”.

Some of that joy will be visible to the customers – Fellowes has emphasised that there is no nudity in his PG-rated story, but the trailer shows a bare-chested Romeo snogging a Juliet in a flimsy nightdress. While catering to his audience’s fantasies, Fellowes has not forgotten their short attention span. As Romeo and Juliet meet, a scandalised deb who recognises the pair behind their party masks hisses to her friend “the Montagues and Capulets are mortal enemies”.

Though Downton Abbey was criticised for anachronisms we may be confident that Romeo and Juliet, if it includes any soup-eating scenes among the upper classes will get them right. Since Fellowes ridiculed in print a guest in his house who spooned his soup in the wrong direction we know that – in table – if not other manners he is the great arbiter of taste. For such services who would begrudge him the film world’s supreme accolade? The prize is one that Shakespeare himself seems to anticipate. It will be interesting to see whether Fellowes has changed old Montague’s line, when he declares he has been won over by Juliet’s virtues : “I will raise her statue in pure gold”.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing