Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Leonard Whiting in Romeo and Juliet

Leonard Whiting did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Romeo Montague in Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet is a very well made adaptation of the Shakespearean play which has some very inspired moments particularly the Tybalt Mercutio duel. I would say the only weakness of the film is that Romeo and Juliet, despite being probably his most famous, is far from Shakespeare's greatest work.

Romeo like the play itself is far from Shakespeare's most compelling work. He is fairly simple in comparison to the likes of Hamlet, Macbeth or Othello. This at least partially comes from the fact that Romeo and Juliet starts out lightly enough, at least compared to his other tragedies, and Romeo initial problems seem quite small. His problem at the beginning is not that his father has been murdered, but just that he is searching for romance. This is not exactly on the same level of other Shakespearean protagonists.  His troubles really are not at all pressing, unlike those of someone like Hamlet, but Romeo certainly treats as pressing even if it does not deserve to be.

Really the main aim of the actor in these early scenes is not to make Romeo come off as a complete twit. There is no reason to really sympathize with Romeo's want of love as he is very young, and there is obviously plenty of time for the man. Leonard Whiting though avoids making his lonely heart seem to be much by just giving a genuine performance as Romeo. It is not that he really makes Romeo's want for love any less of a bit of foolish endeavor particularly the way he goes about it, but he is genuine in bring to life this youthful exuberance that makes his love make sense in that he plays Romeo as he should be a foolish teenager.

Whiting is earnest in his role that works for Romeo as he goes head first into a love affair with Juliet Capulet despite that their families are feuding. He and Olivia Hussey as Juliet have an effective chemistry together on the level of a foolish love that certainly is full of life, although not overly complex. This works though and does succeed in creating the relationship that leads the two to rush right into marriage after only knowing each other for such a brief period, but as well the sort of relationship that leads them to such tragic circumstance. The two create the proper passion that is overwhelming between the two, but as well the lack of maturity that causes such a tragic path.

Whiting's performance is fairly simple but fitting to Romeo. He has a low key a  charm in the role, and he has the right amount of energy in his portrayal of this youth lost to love. Whiting though is overshadowed though anyway by almost everyone else he comes across whether it is Michael York as Tybalt, John McEnery as Mercutio, or particularly Milo O'Shea as Friar Lawrence. They really have the more interesting characters though, and in a way it is not Romeo's place to stand out in some scenes particularly during the duel of Tybalt and Mercutio where he trying to get between them the entire time. I'm not excusing Whiting for being overshadowed but the film does work just fine with Romeo handled in such a way.

After the fatal duel between Mercutio and Tybalt there are scenes for Whiting to shine a little more on his own. He is good in the duel against Tybalt as he shows it just to be blind rage again that causes him to launch his attack which supports the situation. His scene right after though is his weakest as O'Shea completely owns the scene over Whiting, and Whiting comes off a little weak as he espouses Romeo's insanity. His insanity is only temporary which leads him to the point where he thinks Juliet is dead leading to his own suicide. Whiting handles the suicide scene in an appropriate fashion for Romeo by delivering his final despair in a moving but unassuming matter for the immature Romeo. On a whole this really is a fitting performance for the Romeo written by Shakespeare. There are shaky moments in his performance, he is outshone by most of the cast, but for the most part this performance works for the film.


Anonymous said...

If your doing 68 supporting next, can I please reccomend

Oliver Reed- Oliver
Jason Robards- OUATITW
Anthony Hopkins- the Lion in the Winter

Michael Patison said...

I completely agree, both with the ranking and your assessment of the film as a whole.

It's a gorgeous film and Zeffirelli does wonders with the material, but I feel, just as you do, that the play itself is far from Shakespeare's best work. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, of the 9 of his plays that I've read (Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Henry IV (Part 1), Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Hamlet, and Othello), Romeo and Juliet is probably the weakest. This is pretty much no character development. While the story is classic, it isn't really where you start when trying to learn how to develop characters.

moviefilm said...

My prediction will never be right... :)

RatedRStar said...

I liked him a lot, I loved this film so much, I really liked Whiting obviously, Michael York probably gives his best ever performance (I liked him in Cabaret), his scenes with McEnery are perfect.

RatedRStar said...

I see Romeo and Juliet being a more casual audience movie, like its a film for the mainstream audience that would make it a huge box office like a Bond film or a Die Hard film, its one of them kinds I find.