Laurence Harvey and Susan Shentall are the star-crossed lovers in Renato Castellani’s 1954 film, the first British feature adaptation of Shakespeare’s romance. Although it was quickly usurped by the predominance of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version, its relegation in the ranks of British cinema is arguably unfair given the film’s rich visual splendour.
Its ravishing cinematography, incorporating some stunning Italian locations, was appreciated upon its release (the film won Venice’s Golden Lion), but critics also felt it prioritised cinematic spectacle over adherence to the text – an approach that may now be considered a badge of honour by directors like Baz Lurhmann and Justin Kurzel.
Contemporary critics also felt Castellani has too drastically reduced many of the play’s famous supporting roles, but there’s no denying the strength of a young Laurence Harvey as Romeo. Prefiguring Zeffirelli’s well documented search for unknown actors, Castellani's Juliet, Susan Shentall was a secretarial student discovered in a London pub.