Romeo and Juliet (1968 film)

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Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet 1968 film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFranco Zeffirelli
Screenplay byFranco Brusati
Masolino D'Amico
Franco Zeffirelli
Based onRomeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare
Produced byJohn Brabourne
Anthony Havelock-Allan
Narrated byLaurence Olivier
CinematographyPasqualino De Santis
Edited byReginald Mills
Music byNino Rota
BHE Films
Verona Produzione
Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
    • March 04, 1968 (Royal Film Performance)
    • March 05, 1968 (U.K.)
    • October 8, 1968 (U. S.)
    • October 19, 1968 (Italy)
Running time
138 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
Box office$38.9 million[2]

Romeo and Juliet (Italian: Romeo e Giulietta) is a 1968 period romantic tragedy film based on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare. Directed and co-written by Franco Zeffirelli, the film stars Leonard Whiting as Romeo and Olivia Hussey as Juliet. Laurence Olivier spoke the film's prologue and epilogue and dubs the voice of the actor Antonio Pierfederici, who played Lord Montague, but was not credited on-screen. The cast also stars Milo O'Shea, Michael York, John McEnery, Bruce Robinson, and Robert Stephens.

The most financially successful film adaptation of a Shakespeare play at the time of its release, it was popular among teenagers partly because it was the first film to use actors who were close to the age of the characters from the original play. Several critics also welcomed the film enthusiastically.[3][4] It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography (Pasqualino De Santis) and Best Costume Design (Danilo Donati); it was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture, making it the last Shakespearean film to be nominated for Best Picture to date. Whiting and Hussey both won Golden Globe Awards for Most Promising Newcomers.


One summer morning in Verona, a longstanding feud between the Montague and the Capulet clans breaks out in a street brawl. The brawl is broken up by the Prince, who warns both families that any future violence between them will result in harsh consequences. That night, two teenagers of the two families—Romeo and Juliet—meet at a Capulet masked ball and fall in love. Later, Romeo stumbles into the secluded garden under Juliet's bedroom balcony and the two exchange impassioned pledges. They are secretly married the next day by Romeo's confessor and father figure, Friar Laurence, with the assistance of Juliet's nurse.

That afternoon, Juliet's cousin Tybalt, furious that Romeo had attended his family's ball, insults him and challenges him to a brawl. Romeo now regards Tybalt as family and he refuses to fight him, which leads Romeo's best friend, Mercutio, to fight Tybalt instead. Despite Romeo's efforts to stop the fight, Tybalt mortally wounds Mercutio, who curses both the Montague and Capulet houses before dying. Enraged over his friend's death, Romeo retaliates by fighting Tybalt and killing him. Romeo is subsequently punished by the Prince with banishment from Verona, with the threat of death if he ever returns. Romeo then secretly spends his wedding night with Juliet, and the couple consummate their marriage before Romeo flees.

Juliet's parents, unaware of their daughter's secret marriage, have arranged for Juliet to marry wealthy Count Paris. Juliet pleads with her parents to postpone the marriage, but they refuse and threaten to disown her. Juliet seeks out Friar Laurence for help, hoping to escape her arranged marriage to Paris and remain faithful to Romeo. At Friar Laurence's behest, she reconciles with her parents and agrees to their wishes. On the night before the wedding, Juliet consumes a potion prepared by Friar Laurence intended to make her appear dead for 42 hours. Friar Laurence plans to inform Romeo of the hoax so that Romeo can meet Juliet after her burial and escape with her when she recovers from her swoon, so he sends Friar John to give Romeo a letter describing the plan.

However, when Balthasar, Romeo's servant, sees Juliet being buried under the impression that she is dead, he goes to tell Romeo and reaches him before Friar John. In despair, Romeo goes to Juliet's tomb and kills himself by drinking poison. Soon afterwards, Friar Laurence arrives as Juliet awakens. Despite his attempts to persuade her to flee from the crypt, Juliet refuses to leave Romeo, and once the Friar flees, she kills herself by plunging his dagger into her abdomen. Later, the two families, having ended their feud, attend their joint funeral and are condemned by the Prince.



Franco Zeffirelli and Olivia Hussey while filming Romeo and Juliet in 1967


Paul McCartney has said he was considered by Franco Zeffirelli for the role of Romeo. Although Zeffirelli does not mention it in his autobiography, McCartney provided details on this account (including meeting with Olivia Hussey and exchanging telegrams with her) in his co-written autobiography.[5] In April 2020, McCartney referred to his discussions with Zeffirelli on The Howard Stern Show.

Zeffirelli engaged in a worldwide search for unknown teenage actors to play the parts of the two lovers. Anjelica Huston was in the running for Juliet, but her father, the director John Huston, withdrew her from consideration when he decided to cast her in his own film, A Walk with Love and Death.[6] Leonard Whiting was 17 at the time, and Olivia Hussey was 16, and Zeffirelli adapted the play in such a way as to play to their strengths and hide their weaknesses: for instance, long speeches were trimmed, and he emphasized reaction shots.[7]

Laurence Olivier's involvement in the production was by happenstance. He was in Rome to film The Shoes of the Fisherman and visited the studio where Romeo and Juliet was being shot. He asked Zeffirelli if there was anything he could do, and was given the Prologue to read, then ended up dubbing the voice of Lord Montague as well as other assorted minor roles.[7]

Filming locations[edit]

Set in a 14th century Renaissance Italy and filmed in varying locations:[8]


During post-production, several scenes were trimmed or cut. Act 5, Scene 3, in which Romeo fights and eventually kills Paris outside Juliet's crypt, was filmed but deleted from the final print.[9] According to Leonard Whiting and Roberto Bisacco, Zeffirelli cut the scene because he felt it unnecessarily made Romeo less sympathetic.[10] Another scene, where Romeo and Benvolio learn about the Capulet ball by intercepting an invitation, was also filmed but cut, though promotional stills still survive.

Because the film was shot MOS, all dialogue and foley effects had to be looped during editing. A separate dub was created for the Italian release, with Giancarlo Giannini dubbing Whiting and Anna Maria Guarnieri dubbing Hussey, and Vittorio Gassman as narrator.


The film earned $14.5 million in domestic rentals at the North American box office during 1969 (equivalent to $79.12 million in 2019).[11] It was re-released in 1973 and earned $1.7 million in rentals (equivalent to $7.62 million in 2019).[12]

Film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote: "I believe Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet is the most exciting film of Shakespeare ever made".[13]

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 'Fresh' score of 95% based on 37 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10; it is accompanied by the consensus: "The solid leads and arresting visuals make a case for Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet as the definitive cinematic adaptation of the play."[14]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Picture John Brabourne and Anthony Havelock-Allan Nominated
Best Director Franco Zeffirelli Nominated
Best Cinematography Pasqualino De Santis Won
Best Costume Design Danilo Donati Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Direction Franco Zeffirelli Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role John McEnery Nominated
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Pat Heywood Nominated
Best Art Direction Renzo Mongiardino Nominated
Best Costume Design Danilo Donati Won
Best Film Editing Reginald Mills Nominated
Best Film Music Nino Rota Nominated
David di Donatello Awards Best Director Franco Zeffirelli Won
Golden Plate Award Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting Won
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Franco Zeffirelli Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best English-Language Foreign Film Romeo and Juliet Won
Best Director – Motion Picture Franco Zeffirelli Nominated
Best Original Score – Motion Picture Nino Rota Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer – Male Leonard Whiting Won
Most Promising Newcomer – Female Olivia Hussey Won
Laurel Awards Top Drama Romeo and Juliet Nominated
Top Cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis Nominated
Top Male New Face Michael York Nominated
Top Female New Face Olivia Hussey Nominated
Nastro d'Argento Best Director Franco Zeffirelli Won
Best Cinematography – Color Pasqualino De Santis Won
Best Costume Design Danilo Donati Won
Best Score Nino Rota Won
Best Production Design Lorenzo Mongiardino Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films Romeo and Juliet Won
Best Director Franco Zeffirelli Won
Thessaloniki International Film Festival Honorary Award Won


Two releases of the score of the film, composed by Nino Rota, have been made.[15][16]

The film's "Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet" was widely disseminated, notably in "Our Tune", a segment of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)'s disc jockey Simon Bates's radio show. In addition, various versions of the theme have been recorded and released, including a highly successful one by Henry Mancini, whose instrumental rendition was a Number One success in the United States during June 1969.[17]

There are two different sets of English lyrics to the song.

  • The film's version is called "What Is a Youth?", featuring lyrics by Eugene Walter, and sung by Glen Weston. This version has been released on the complete score/soundtrack release.
  • An alternate version, called "A Time for Us", featuring lyrics by Larry Kusik and Eddie Snyder. This version has been recorded by Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams and Shirley Bassey for her 1968 album This is My Life. Josh Groban performed "Un Giorno Per Noi", an Italian version of "A Time for Us". Jonathan Antoine, classically trained tenor from Great Britain, performed "Un Giorno Per Noi" as one of the tracks on his second solo album, "Believe", which was released in August 2016. A third version is called "Ai Giochi Addio", featuring lyrics by Elsa Morante and sung in the italian version by Bruno Filippini who plays the minstrel in the film, has been performed by opera singers such as Luciano Pavarotti and Natasha Marsh.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Thom Yorke cites the film as one of the inspirations for the Radiohead song "Exit Music (For a Film)", which was written specifically for the ending credits of the 1996 film William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. Said Yorke, "I saw the Zeffirelli version when I was 13, and I cried my eyes out, because I couldn't understand why the morning after they shagged, they didn't just run away. The song is written for two people who should run away before all the bad stuff starts. A personal song."
  • Kevin and Paul go to see the film in "Wayne on Wheels", a season three episode of The Wonder Years.
  • Celine Dion referenced this film, in particular the "hand dance" scene, in the video for her 1992 single "Nothing Broken but My Heart".
  • In the Boy Meets World episode "A Long Walk to Pittsburgh (Part 2)", after Topanga and her parents have moved to Pittsburgh, she runs away and makes her way back to Cory's home in Philadelphia. Cory's parents then phone Topanga's parents who in turn send Topanga's Aunt Prudence, who lives in Philadelphia, to pick her up. Cory tells Topanga that maybe Aunt Prudence "will be on our side.... Maybe she'll realize that we're Romeo and Juliet, we belong together." Topanga tells him that "my aunt has never been in love, never been married and wouldn't even know who Romeo and Juliet were." At which point Aunt Prudence enters the room, played by Olivia Hussey.
  • Japanese manga artist Rumiko Takahashi referenced the Zeffirelli film in two of her manga and anime works. In one episode of Urusei Yatsura, Ryoko Mendou invites series protagonist Ataru Moroboshi to have a "Romeo and Juliet"-style rendezvous with her, and wears a dress based on Hussey's from the film. Later, Takahashi's Ranma 1/2 featured a storyline in which the lead characters, Ranma Saotome and Akane Tendo, are cast as Romeo and Juliet in a production of the play at their high school. Takahashi designed Ranma and Akane's costumes for the play with Whiting and Hussey's outfits in the Zeffirelli film in mind.[18]
  • Director/screenwriter Bruce Robinson claims Zeffirelli made unwanted sexual advances during the film's production.[19] Robinson fictionalized this incident in dialogue from his first film, Withnail & I, where the title character reads from a newspaper, "Boy Lands Plum Role for Top Italian Director" and then remarks, "Course he does! Probably on a tenner a day, and I know what for! 2 pound 10 a tit and a fiver for his arse!"

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p399
  2. ^ "Romeo and Juliet, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  3. ^ Adler, Renata (9 October 1968). "Movie Review – Romeo and Juliet (1968)". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (15 October 1968). "Romeo and Juliet". Chicago Sun Times. Archived from the original on 21 December 2007. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  5. ^ Du Noyer, Paul. Conversations with McCartney. New York: The Overlook Press. pg.: 138-139
  6. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: 92Y Plus (19 November 2014). Anjelica Huston with Joy Behar: Watch Me. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  7. ^ a b Landazuri, Margarita "Romeo and Juliet (1968)"
  8. ^ Liner notes (back cover) from Romeo & Juliet: Original Soundtrack Recording, 1968, Capitol Records ST 2993
  9. ^ Jackson, Russell (2007). Shakespeare Films in the Making: Vision, Production and Reception. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0521815475.
  10. ^ Loney, Glenn (1990). Staging Shakespeare – Seminars on Production Problems. New York City: Garland Press. ISBN 978-0824066130.
  11. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
  12. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 60
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (15 October 1968). "Romeo and Juliet". The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 17 January 2014 – via
  14. ^ "Romeo and Juliet (1968)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  15. ^ "Romeo & Juliet: Nino Rota: Music". Amazon. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  16. ^ "Nino Rota Romeo & Juliet Soundtrack HDtracks high resolution audiophile music downloads". 4 December 1999. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  17. ^ Bronson, Fred (1992). Billboard's Book Of #1 Hits (3rd ed.). New York, New York: Billboard Publications, Inc. pp. 255. ISBN 0-8230-8298-9.
  18. ^ The storyline spans chapters 74 through 77 of the manga and episode 39 of the anime titled Kissing Is Such Sweet Sorrow! The Taking of Akane's Lips.
  19. ^ Keegan, Rebecca (18 June 2019). "The Dark Side of Franco Zeffirelli: Abuse Accusers Speak Out Upon the Famed Director's Death". The Hollywood Reporter.

Further reading

External links[edit]