Franco Zeffirelli was responsible for this film from 1968 which I saw in 1976 when I was sixteen. It remains one of the formative films of my youth. It was in a hall in a community college in a neighbouring town and my English Literature O level group was taken to see it as a useful alternative to seeing it on stage; my teacher bemoaned the fact that there was no stage version within a reasonable distance for us to see. It did not bother me as back then I was more interested in cinema than stage. I was not a big fan of Shakespeare either and was there only because it was a requirement.
Yet, this film had a huge impact for me, for on the screen was an actor I had never seen before but who made a huge impact on me. This is a moment when I should have been questioning why Juliet did not do it for me but I was too busy watching Romeo… very closely.
I had never seen the actor Leonard Whiting before and I cannot think of anything else I may have seen him in but, love is where it falls and in a community college hall in the south of England it fell on me. Maybe, the subject matter of the film had something to do with it but to my sixteen year old self I knew I had discovered something about myself that, although not hidden nor denied, had never come to the forefront of my thinking.
I was completely struck by this Romeo long before the bedroom scene where he appeared naked. I wasn’t used to seeing naked scenes in film or television either so this was quite an evening. I was convinced that my friends would know what I was thinking, of feeling, so would soon be my ex-friends.
Remember, this was in a time before internet, television or cinema on demand, or even VHS or DVD. All I had following this screening was the memory of Leonard Whiting as Romeo. It was quite a memory, though, strong enough to last a lifetime.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ directed by Franco Zeffirelli is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?