I’m a noted Romeo and Juliet skeptic–to me, the text of the play has always been the equivalent of an anti-hero drama that doesn’t quite make clear that you’re supposed to feel conflicted about rooting for its protagonist, or in this case, for falling for the love story of its heroes, even though it’s a hugely adolescent entanglement. So I’m trying to decide of Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes’ adaptation of the Bard’s classic does what the best productions of this particular play does, and makes clear that this is a tragedy forged of teenaged emotions, or if it, too, gets swept away. It seems to start in one place, and end up in the other, a trajectory that in and of itself is a demonstration of how much more seductive than cautionary Shakespeare’s text ends up being:
The poster tagline is “The most dangerous love story ever told,” which lends itself to multiple interpretations. Is the love story dangerous because it encourages young people to pursue their passions no matter the costs to themselves and other people? Is Romeo and Juliet dangerous because it suggests that love is stronger than the existing order, a point that would land harder if the purity of Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other convinced their warring houses that their rivalry, which never has a stated origin, is pointless and destructive before they committed suicide, not after? I’ll be fascinated to see where Fellowes’ interpretation lands, but in the meantime, I’m more excited for Rosaline, a retelling of the story from the perspective of the woman Romeo jilts for Juliet, and who might end up being the luckiest person in the story because of it, given that she ends up both alive and free of Romeo’s obsessions.