And of course that’s the ground-breaking version directed by Franco Zefferelli, with young, young, youngsters Leonard Whiting as Romeo and Olivia Hussey as Juliet.
He was 16 (Romeo was 15) and she was 14/15 (Juliet is 13-14). Yeah: middle-schoolers. This does put a twist into the whole “romance” thing, once you realize they’re basically younger than the Twilight kids, the Vampire Diairies kids, Buffy & her friends, and only 9th & 7th graders.
But it is Renaissance Italy and Zefferelli frankly changed the game completely. Made us aware of the youth of R&J–in 1968, imagine! Plus he could add nudity “for reals” and get away with it.
Whole “Italy” thing works here too: hot, dusty, timeless, “real.” The costume, the blood, the passion feel both Italian and Renaissance, even spoken in British accents and Shakespearean verse. No matter: it works.
Whiting and Hussey were fresh, young, passionate. Their impulsiveness, especially during the scene with Friar Laurence, points out their age, compared to the ages of their parents, authority figures, and decision-makers in the film (again 1968, go figure!).
The theme song, “A Time for Us,” was a pop hit.