The Balcony scene is perhaps the most iconic moment of Romeo and Juliet, and it is vital to the telling of the story. The way this crucial moment is depicted in different retellings of the classic story can either ruin, or make the film. In this post I will be comparing the original text, a retelling of the play from 1968 starring Leonard Whiting as Romeo and Olivia Hussey as Juliet, and a 1998 retelling starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. The 1968 version stays relatively true to the original play, while the 1998 version gives the play a modern twist, including technology such as guns and electricity. The key points I chose to compare are, the emotion of the scene, the setting, and the positioning of Romeo and Juliet.
The striking change in setting is the most obvious difference between the two movie adaptations. The 1968 version takes place in 14th century Verona, like the original play. Juliet is up in her room in her family’s large home, overlooking a garden. Meanwhile the 1998 version takes place in the modern day (at the time) United States, in a fictional town called “Verona Beach”, which bares resemblance to California. Juliet in this version is at a window overlooking the courtyard of a less dense garden and a pool. This shift in time and place does not necessarily make one version inferior to the other, however, by setting in it in a different place from the play, further changes need to be made to fit the new setting.
Positioning of Romeo and Juliet
In the 1968 version and the play, Juliet stands on a balcony overlooking a garden. Romeo, watches from below, and when he makes his move to revel himself, he has to look up at Juliet, and later physically climb his way up. This is an important symbolic element of the scene, Romeo is physically lower then Juliet. Juliet is morally higher then Romeo, unsure of their love, and in a way playing a more innocent, holy character. This physical difference also ties into Romeos analogies of her, adding a physical element, to hen he refers to her as the sun for example. In the 1998 version, Juliet is up in her room briefly, but soon ends up coming down to Romeo’s level, where they talk while in the pool, with Juliet retreating from Romeo’s advances. This seemingly small change destroys a large symbolic element of the scene, it is called “The Balcony Scene” yet in this version it barley takes place on a balcony.
The Emotion of the Scene
Another huge difference between the two films are the emotional elements and how the characters react and play off of each other. In the 1968 Version, Juliet is shocked to see Romeo, and is terrified that they might be seen. The stakes also seem higher, with Juliet fearing Romeo’s death if he is seen. Romeo, on the other hand seems in awe of Juliet. Romeo is deeply in love, and eventually, it is revealed that Juliet is in love with Romeo as well. The characters play off of each other well and have good chemistry, and the kissing is relatively brief. In the 1998 version, the emotions behind the scene, and how the characters act is very different. Juliet is more playful and happy to see Romeo, Romeo is also much more playful and positive. There are also silly elements, with the night guard watching out for them, and Romeo having to duck under water. The kissing between the characters is also much more heated. However, overall, they fail to capture the emotional feel of the seen. The acting is a little chunky, and it does not seem to have all of the risk and significance the scene is supposed to include.
In Conclusion, The two scenes play out very differently. The examples I included are only a few ways the scenes differ, but overall, the emotion, setting, and position is what really separates the two films. The 1968 version closely mirrors the play, with some lines removed as to not take up too much time. If you are looking for a movie adaptation that is similar to what we see in the book, the 1968 version is your best bet. The 1998 version simply does not have the chemistry between the characters, and the acting feels clunky and abnormal. The 1968 version is, in my opinion, the superior version of the Balcony scene, from Romeo and Juliet.
I for the most part agree with this review from the balcony scene from the newest adaptation from 2013. The characters seem far too stone-faced and bland when they read their lines, far worse than in the 1998 version. Also, any emotion made between the characters is cut down by the awful music that does not at all fit the scene. However, I did not have as much of a negative reaction towards the props, but after a second look, I agree they do look fake. This scene is absolutely abysmally done and while I have not seen the entire film, the idea that this is the worst scene in the film, does not seem too unlikely.