Romeo and Juliet: Comparing and Contrasting the Movies

Romeo and Juliet: Comparing and Contrasting the Movies

A Story by Pen The Willows

My final paper for my freshman English class.


            There are many different ways to tell the same story. You can change the presentation format, the time period it is set in, the language used, or any other piece of the thousands that, when put together, make a story. Sometimes, when the story is told in two very different ways, it’s hard to believe that it’s the same story. That is how many people feel about the older and newer film versions of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann, respectively. Though they share a common plot and common characters, their settings, costumes, and character portrayals greatly vary.

            The most obvious difference is, of course, the setting. The original play is set in fifteenth-century Verona, Italy. That is also the setting that Zeffirelli used in his film. This makes it perfectly natural for the characters to be speaking the Old English lines of the original play.  Luhrmann decided to make his movie more ‘modern’, so his setting was very different. He set his film in the late twentieth-century Verona Beach, in what seems to be California. This setting makes it seem a bit ridiculous for the characters to be speaking Old English, but that is one of the few things that Luhrmann decided to not ‘modernize’. The different settings almost make the films seem as if they’re entirely different, which is not completely true.

            Another difference between the two films is the costumes, which highly ties into the setting. It would be sheer insanity for the characters in the Luhrmann version to be wearing breeches/hose and tunics (or wide gowns, as the case may be). It would also be sheer insanity for the characters in the Zeffirelli version to be wearing jeans and Converse (or summer dresses). Luckily, in this aspect, both directors kept their senses about them. The Zeffirelli characters are in the proper period clothing, and the Luhrmann characters are correctly garbed in modern clothing. An important aspect of a movie is making sure that the costumes fit the setting, something which both directors succeeded with.

            One of the less-obvious differences is the characters. Both directors used the same characters, but portrayed many of them in different ways. Both directors kept Nurse as the ‘comic relief’, which gets them a gold star. But let us examine Juliet, shall we? In Zeffirelli’s version, she looks and acts like her thirteen years of age (which Shakespeare mentions in the play; in Luhrmann’s version, she appears to be sixteen or seventeen. Both directors portray Romeo as impulsive and romantic young man, which probably pleased many critics. Zeffirelli’s Mercutio is angrier and more unstable than Luhrmann’s witty and comical Mercutio, who is portrayed as the trickster. Perhaps the biggest variance in character portrayal in the two movies is that of Tybalt. Zeffirelli’s Tybalt is civil and well-mannered even while angry, while Luhrmann’s Tybalt is extreme and quick-tempered, as well as seeming to always be looking for a fight. Character portrayals can help two presentations be very similar or very different.

            Though the two films are based on the same play, and share a few similar pieces, the two directors had very different artistic visions. Franco Zeffirelli wanted to keep his movie as close to the original play as possible, while Baz Luhrmann wanted his film to be a modern retelling of a very classic tale. Both films have their value, and people should watch both versions to make sure they fully understand the story. It is important, though, for viewers to understand that the films are very different, so that they aren’t confused when watching one after the other.

© 2011 Pen The Willows

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Well, I think you should choose which piece is better in the conclusion.You did compare 3 aspects and it was well compared. I like your comparative review but I recommend you take on either side in the conclusion and the body text.

PS. I like the way you introduce your essay! XD

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Added on September 6, 2011
Last Updated on September 6, 2011


Pen The Willows
Pen The Willows


I'm 18 years old and I'm in my sophomore year of college. Most of the writings archived on here are from when I was in middle school and high school, and they aren't really very good. I wasn't going t.. more..