For never was a story of more woe...
My morning began with radio interviews regarding the re-make of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by the great Julian Fellowes, starring 14 year old Hailee Steinfeld.
I will admit to being a Shakespeare purist, I love Shakespeare. I like to see Macbeth set in the middle of a mock wood, not on a minimalist black and white habitat-esque stage. I want to see it as Shakespeare meant it to be seen and there is no doubt that Shakespeare saw Juliet as being fourteen years old. A story of an all consuming teenage love wildly beyond all reason, two star crossed lovers, which ends in death.
The problem is, Julian Fellowes has scripted a graphic nude love scene using a fourteen year old actress with a nineteen year old male lead and I am afraid that is just wrong on a number of levels. It would be much more appropriate to use an older actress who looks younger. Am I arguing against myself? I don’t think so. The artistic situation created by the Bard is unique and should be seen within its own context of a sixteenth century play when there were no laws regarding underage sex and no welfare state.
The scene and the age of the actress will become the focus of the film. The talk will be all be of the underage actress and the message will be one that will romanticise to all young girls what is, in fact, under age sex. In a world of AIDS, Chlamydia and single parenthood, where we already have the highest number of teenage pregnancies in Western Europe and the highest numbers of abortions, that is not a responsible message to put out.
In light of the report published today which sends a serious message to all those involved in the over sexualisation of society and the effect it is having on our young people, I hope Julian Fellowes takes heed.
One also has to question, given that the Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet must still be the greatest, the most artistic and pure, is Fellowes looking for his own platform on which to challenge Zeffirelli for that crown and just going one step too far?
Update... The 'haters' as they are now known in my office, are attempting to state that the actress in the Zefirelli film was fifteen and therefore what is the difference between Fellowes and Zeffirelli? My response is this... read the script notes as appeared in the Sunday Times. In the Zeffirelli film, there is no fourteen year old being undressed until naked and no simulating sexual intercourse. There is a huge difference between the sensitive way Zefirelli portrayed a delicate scene and the graphic way Fellowes has chosen.