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Review Roundup: Josh O'Connor & Jessie Buckley Star in The National Theatre's ROMEO & JULIET

This stylized film of Shakespeare's masterpiece celebrates the theatrical imagination, moving from the stripped-down aesthetic of a rehearsal into a cinematic journey.

Review Roundup: Josh O'Connor & Jessie Buckley Star in The National Theatre's ROMEO & JULIET

Golden Globe winner and star of "The Crown Josh O'Connor and "Fargo" star Jessie Buckley lead the original film for television by The National Theatre, Great Performances: Romeo & Juliet, which premieres tonight, Friday, April 23 at 9 p.m. on PBS, pbs.org/gperf and the PBS Video app.

This stylized film of Shakespeare's masterpiece celebrates the theatrical imagination, moving from the stripped-down aesthetic of a rehearsal into a cinematic journey that embraces the architecture of the theater space and varied backstage spaces of the National's Lyttelton Theatre.

In this contemporary rendering of Shakespeare's romantic tragedy, a company of actors in a shuttered theater bring to life the tale of two young lovers who strive to transcend a world of violence and hate.

Starring Josh O'Connor (The Crown, Masterpiece: The Durrells in Corfu) and Jessie Buckley (Fargo, Chernobyl) as Romeo and Juliet, the production is directed by Shakespeare Theatre Company Artistic Director Simon Godwin and is adapted for television by Emily Burns. The ensemble cast features Fisayo Akinade as Mercutio, Shubham Saraf as Benvolio, Deborah Findlay as the Nurse, David Judge as Tybalt, Alex Mugnaioni as Paris, Ellis Howard as Sampson, Tamsin Greig as Lady Capulet and Lucian Msamati as the Friar.

Let's see what critics had to say...


Jesse Green, The New York Times: "At 90 minutes, it is even shorter than the "two hours' traffic of our stage" promised in its first lines but rarely honored in performance. (The entire play normally takes about three hours.) Yet as directed by Simon Godwin, this emotionally satisfying and highly theatrical filmed version scores point after point while whizzing past, or outright cutting, the elements that can make you think it was written not by Shakespeare but by O. Henry on a bender."

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: "This is worlds away from the pallid experience of so much virtual theater seen over the past year since stages went dark for lockdown. It's a beguiling hybrid experiment in which a four century-old drama appears before our very eyes to dismantle and reassemble itself spontaneously as a living, breathing, timeless love story destroyed by senseless hatred."

Linda Holmes, NPR: "This is an effective and gripping production that pushes you, as the best R&Js do, in the direction of thinking, "Don't do it! Don't take the poison!" even when you know he will take it, because he must, because that's the play. But it's also a moving document that shows the cavernous spaces and folding tables and impossibly high walls and ceilings that make theaters haunting and beautiful. May we all be together in their thrall very soon."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian: "Commercially, the scale and resource of this venture can hardly serve as a blueprint for other theatres to follow, but artistically it is just exquisite. If this is a first venture into a pandemic-resistant revenue stream for the National, it sets the bar high."

Helen Shaw, Vulture: "After it was over, I wondered if I should watch it again: I had hoped it would sink its fingers into me, but instead it delivered only teasing, promising touches. But that too is a credit to the way Godwin has made a 500-year-old play into a mirror of our own everyday. I lived through that time, I know I did. But the memory of it has turned into a dream already."

David Cote, Observer: "While there's always a bloc of theater cognoscenti calling for a (justifiable) moratorium on the Bard, good Shakespeare is good Shakespeare: Get it where you can. In this case, that means PBS starting Friday. Until theaters open their doors again, it may be the closest we'll get to touching the object of our affection."

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