TBT: Romeo and Juliet (1968)


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.

Romeo and Juliet (1968) costume review

Even or odd, of all days in the year, / Come Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen.

Romeo and Juliet (1968) costume review

Thou know’st my daughter’s of a pretty age…

Romeo and Juliet (1968) costume review

Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! / For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.

Romeo and Juliet (1968) costume review

My only love sprung from my only hate! / Too early seen unknown, and known too late!

Romeo and Juliet (1968) costume review

See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand! / O, that I were a glove upon that hand, / That I might touch that cheek!

Romeo and Juliet (1968) costume review

Come, come with me, and we will make short work; / For, by your leaves, you shall not stay alone / Till holy church incorporate two in one.

Romeo and Juliet (1968) costume review

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day / Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops. / I must be gone and live, or stay and die.


12 Responses

  1. Christine Redding

    In my elder years, I have grown impatient of the follies of youth… downright curmudgeonly, I confess. But when I saw this film when it first came out, when I was one of Them, it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Even then, knowing nothing of the costumer’s art, I loved the costumes!

    Apropos of nothing, probably, Olivia Hussey went on in her later career to play Mary, Mom of Jesus in JESUS OF NAZARETH.

    • Trystan

      I would LOVE to see this on the big screen! I’ve seen it many times, but only on TV. Beautiful, but I can only imagine how stunning it was in the original.

  2. Rowan O'Bryan

    I made a golden cap like that for a ball in like 1997. could never get that image out of my mind. love this!

  3. Isis

    I saw it on a big screen when I was 15 and I was a complete sobbing mess after, with a huge crush on Romeo. :) And I had read the play, my friends who didn’t know they the ending was completely distraught. Wonderful movie! :)

  4. Michael L. McQuown

    They cheated: they used real Italy, real castles, and god help us all if the Italians, surrounded by history and leaders of cutting-edge fashion, can’t get their Renaissance right! Swords were spot-on, too. To this day, theatrical costumers refer to that headpiece as a “Juliet cap.”

    • Maurizio

      ‘They cheated’ LMAO! Well maybe… A little.
      Actually the first to cheat was William, who put the 2 young lovers in Verona in the original script. Greetings from Italy.
      PS. The movie was on air today.

  5. Kelly

    This was the first Shakespeare film I ever saw–I was eight, and it set my life on its current path. There’s a stunning extra in the Capulet ball–from the way the camera lingers on her, I assume she’s supposed to be Rosaline, for whom Romeo crashed the party–in dark blue and gold, with layer upon layer of fabric. There’s another one, who Benvolio vainly tries to chat up, who is a straight-up Botticelli! She’s in peach, with a cream veil and beatific expression. As beautiful as these costumes are, though, just imagine slogging around in them in an Italian summer!
    And there is one hilarious 1960s interloper: in the first scene of Tybalt and his guys, one dude has a total Sgt. Pepper mustache!

    • Sarah Meadow Walsh

      You are so right about all of the above. I totally agree, I have always thought that woman at the ball, the one who is besotted by the minstrel, looks straight out of a painting=. Oh, and he looks a bit like Ringo Starr, IMO – and I’m sure that’s not a mistake!!

  6. Aleko

    RIP John McEnery

    The obits came out a day or two ago: he died on April 12th. He was so great in this film: for me he will always be Mercutio. And I learn from the Time obit that he played the duel-and-death scene while suffering from pneumonia and barely able to stand!

  7. jayoungr

    Surely this should be filed under fifteenth century, rather than sixteenth? The costumes look pretty solidly 1480s or so as far as I can tell.