There had been some silent films of Shakespear’s plays, but the 1936 film of Romeo and Juliet was a Hollywood blockbuster. Manyy people thought the actors playing the lovers were too old: Leslie Howard as Rosmeo was forty-three and Norma Shearer as Juliet was thirty-four. But a lot of people who never went to the theatre saw Romeo and Juliet for the first time at the cinema.
West Side Story (1961) is a film version of the 1959 stage musical. It won an oscar for the best film. The settino is New york in the 1950s; Tony (Romeo) is a member of the ‘Sharks’, a gang of young people originally from Easter Europe, while Maria (Juliet) if from the ‘Jets’, a gang of young people originally from Puerto Rico. The music, by the American composer Leonard Bernstein, includes classical and latin American styles, and the words by Stephen Sondhein are both funny and moving.
The Australian director Baz Luhrmann used two young accora for his Romeo and Juliet (1997): Leonardo di Caprio was twenty-one and Claire Danes was sixteen. But the setting – Verona Beach - is a fictional Californian town, a swimming pool is used for the ‘balcony scene’, and the actors speak Shakespear’s text with American accents.