Picture the scene: it’s the mid-90s, you’re in middle school English class, and the teacher has just wheeled in the bulky cart with the huge TV and VCR. She fiddles with the input, frantically pressing buttons, until finally, miraculously, that swooping Nino Rota score fills the air. Lord, was there anything better than a movie day in school?? Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (Disc/Download) will always be a fond English class memory for me, even though I happened to watch it the same year Baz Luhrmann’s fantastic fever dream came out. I love both versions, but if you’re looking for true authenticity of time period and setting, you can’t beat this 1960s classic.
Starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey as our titular star-cross’d lovers, this adaptation is like a sumptuous trip to Renaissance Italy. Shot on location in Tuscan villages, watching it makes you feel like you just stepped into a Botticelli painting. The costumes are incredible, with expertly tailored velvets, brocades, and silks, in addition to sculptural headpieces and masks at the Capulet ball. I also love the “cat-like” hat Michael York wears as Tybalt “Prince of Cats”, in addition to the mere casting of York, who’s always struck me as having a particularly feline face. It’s the visual details that make this movie special, in addition to the theme popularized by Mancini. When that tenor comes out to sing “A Time for Us”, I still get goosebumps. Sure, Luhrmann’s version made the text more accessible to modern audiences, but there’s something to be said for watching this production of Shakespeare’s play the way he probably envisioned it while writing. In fair Verona, where he laid his scene.
Speaking of Verona, I decided to make a cocktail of the same name because it fits quite well with the tone of this movie. Strong, a little sweet, and perfect for sipping slowly. While watching Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, I recommend drinking a Verona cocktail.
2 oz Gin
1 oz Amaretto
1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
1/4 tsp Lemon Juice
Orange slice for garnish
Combine gin, amaretto, sweet vermouth, and lemon juice in a mixing tin with ice. Stir until chilled, then strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with one large ice cube. Garnish with an orange slice.
I love that Zeffirelli cast relatively unknown actors for these roles, and I’m not going to lie- my Jordan Catalano-loving heart definitely swooned over Leonard Whiting the first time I saw him, with his tights and eyelashes-for-days. This movie has a timeless quality to it because these actors will always be impossibly gorgeous, the sets and costumes will always look authentic, and the words of Shakespeare will always be immortal. I’m forever grateful for those English class “movie days”, and only hope that future generations get to experience the thrill of a good adaptation like I did. Cheers!