Whenever people think that older Hollywood films couldn’t, wouldn’t, or just didn’t do historically accurate period costumes, I point them to Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. The entire production is suffused with a sense of history. Starting with the authentic 15th- and 16th-century Italian settings, the movie immerses you in fair Verona, where we lay our scene. The Italian Renaissance costumes designed by Danilo Donati deservedly won the Best Costume Oscar for this film.
The movie earned both praise and notoriety for casting teenagers in the title roles, seen as both age-appropriate to Shakespeare’s play and risque for the times. It works, in my opinion, because, the youth of these actors emphasizes the fragility of their love and rashness of their actions. And they’re gorgeous, not in a model-perfect way, but with a freshness and lushness that is captivating. Plus, unlike many films of that era and since, we’re graced with a long, lingering shot of Romeo’s bare backside after the pair wake from consummating their marriage — instead of the usual camera focusing on women’s full-frontal (and I don’t care if that’s due to the director’s orientation; hey, it’s rare in a major motion picture no matter what!).
The costumes are fully realized on all the characters, from principles to extras. Nurse is wonderful in her full veils, and overall the headgear is fantastic, straight out of paintings. Juliet does wear her hair down a lot, but she’s a young unmarried girl (even when she’s married, it’s a secret), and when her hair is styled, it’s done in a perfectly period fashion. There’s none of the horrible ’60s hair on women or men that’s so common to historical films of this era. My only quibble is there are a lot of visible metal grommets, especially since all the men’s garb is pointed and laced. But the overall look is so right, I’ll happily forgive them.
Queue this one up for a romantic night, and you won’t be disappointed.