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

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

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

£3bn to repair Parliament? Knock it into flats and send MPs up North

Matthew Norma
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would make sure rich people paid to live here

Bonnie Greer
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn