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Franco Zeffirelli no More at 96, R.I.P Romeo and Juliet Director

“Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow”

Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation for Romeo and Juliet was Renowned, and now The Legacy director has Passed away at 96 if you recognized the quote in the title as belonging to William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, good for you! There have been countless stage and film versions of this romantic tragedy, and Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 adaptation is one of the most renowned.

Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation for Romeo and Juliet
Franco Zeffirelli and Olivia Hussey

Franco Zeffirelli, who passed away on 15 June, was a prolific director and producer who attracted acclaim and courted controversy, both in equal measure. He is notable for specializing in the adaptation of plays (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello), operas (La Bohème, Cavalleria Rusticana) and novels (Jane Eyre); and directing polemical religious films (Brother Sun, Sister Moon) and series (Jesus of Nazareth).

Never was a Story of More Woe…

Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation for Romeo and Juliet
A reduced version of the poster of Romeo and Juliet

Or a Shakespearean film of more éclat than Romeo and Juliet (1968). Directed by Zeffirelli and starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey as the titular star-crossed lovers, the film was showered with awards: two Oscars, three Golden Globes and a BAFTA to name some of them.

The wordy poster advertised the film with several exclamations — “A joy!” “Stunning!” “Beautiful!” “Breathtaking!” — and advertised it with pride:

“Paramount Pictures takes great pride and pleasure in presenting to the American public the return of the greatest love story of all time.”

Without the title, I don’t think the poster even vaguely looks like it’s advertising a Shakespearean film. Whiting and Hussey look like a pair of naughty American youth who have had their first experience of love. This makes a case for the effectiveness and appeal of Romeo and Juliet. Although it is a sixteenth-century play about a fourteenth-century romance, Zeffirelli renders it fresh and oddly relatable for his audience as the 60s was a period that witnessed the counterculture movement and the beginning of the sexual revolution. Romeo and Juliet would have served as a cautionary reminder of the tragic consequences of restrictive and oppressive social and cultural mores.

Franco Zeffirelli is unlikely to be forgotten. You can watch Romeo and Juliet at a small charge on Google Play.