Romeo and Juliet with Joseph Fiennes

Full Episode

Fiennes has a unique perspective on Romeo and Juliet. He played Shakespeare – both writing and performing as Romeo – in the film Shakespeare in Love. Now he wants to examine why it remains the most-performed of all Shakespeare plays.

Fiennes takes us back to the source – an Italian story translated into English when Shakespeare was a boy. Shakespeare adapted and dramatized the Italian poem, and other writers have been adapting him for centuries ever since. At London’s Royal Ballet, viewers see the play in a famous dance interpretation, and later Stephen Sondheim discusses adapting for the Broadway musical theater as West Side Story. Fiennes visits adult night classes at a South London school where the participants can see their own lives reflected in the play.

Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad, who recently played the immortal lovers on Broadway in 2013, discuss the continuing power of the play and its poetry. And Fiennes looks at noted film adaptations, ranging from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 Italian masterpiece to Baz Luhrman’s contemporary re-imagining. We attend the premiere of a new film adaptation, this time rewritten by Julian Fellowes. Back at the Globe, we watch as the company rehearses a scene with a young man very effectively playing Juliet – just as would have been done in Shakespeare’s time.

The ending of this play is so tragic that for years rewritten versions dominated the stage. Yet Fiennes sees a more hopeful message coming from the tragic ending, one about the eternal power of love.