a film by Alan Brown
2011 | 98 mins | US
›› Private Romeo
a radical re-imaging of the classic.
Private Romeo by Alan Brown Some say be wary of works that arrive with the words "adapted from" in the small print, as they seemingly all too often fail to live up to the acclaim of the source material. Whilst that is not always the case, sadly, this is one such instance in which those words bear true. That said, there is no denying that adaptation author and director Alan Brown of O Beautiful fame has gone out of his way to showcase a radical re-imaging of Shakespeare's eternal tale of star-cross'd lovers. And for that Brown has to be praised, in a film that has fair Verona now relocated to an all but deserted military academy, one where eight cadets excluded from land exercises seek refuge in their course work and a rendering of the classic Romeo and Juliet that is soon to take on a life of its own. Or is it?

For that is the point in question, given this clearly is not a film for theatrical purists, only not on account of its gay reworking, that to be fair is beautifully handled. Rather by way of Brown's attack on the very foundations of the play itself. For gone is the overt rivalry between two feuding households. As too, missing in action are the poignant opening / closing dialogues. And don't even mention the ending, which is certainly a "different take" on the proceedings to put it mildly. Then there's the homemade Indie rock inserts, let alone the juxtaposing of Elizabethan tongue one minute, with modern verse the next, only to cut to sequences of the actors reading their lines; student fashion. Yet more serious for many will be the personal pronouns employed, that whilst keeping with the spirit of the play, equate to a cinematic translation when gay visibility is spoken with lines that refer to the feminine form, making for a question of sexual identity, to say the least.

Private Romeo by Alan Brown On the positive side however, Hale Appleman, previously seen in Nick Oceano's Pedro, shines as the Mercutio, plus of the piece, with the all-male cast engaging throughout, including its two lovers who and to their credit get down to some serious lip-service, with Matt Doyle notably getting his Broadway credentials out for the boys, come the closing reel. Frankly, its youthful players salvage the film, given Brown has taken far too many liberties with the story, rendering its overall emotional impact, in particular during the climatic scenes, almost non-existent as a result. All of which prompts the issue of just how many Shakespearean basics you expect to find in an "adapted from" work, one that in itself was "inspired by" Joe Calarco's own variant take of Shakespeare's R&J. What is apparent is that and for a military staged film aimed at a gay audience, it remains remarkably coy when it comes to the homoerotic angle of the show, making these officers-to-be, modest in the extreme.

That this is not the first and hopefully will not be the last modern day take on the Bard of Avon's timeless tale of love and tragedy, goes without saying. Indeed, for a lush gay interpretation that equally stays faithful to the fundamentals of the play, check out Laurie Lynd's captivating short film Verona. As this feature stands however, its creatively fresh approach will no doubt and in true Jarman style delight some, only to infuriate others. The players however show considerable promise, with some all but earth-treading stars that make dark heaven, light.

Gay Visibility - overt. 
Nudity - strictly from the waist up. 
Overall - file under ... 2+ stars. 
available on DVD as part of the TLA Releasing UK catalogue 30.April.2012 / UK.
starring: Hale Appleman / Josh Neff, Charlie Barnett / Ken Lee, Adam Barrie / Adam Hersh, Chris Bresky /
Omar Madsen, Matt Doyle / Glenn Mangan, Sean Hudock / Gus Sanchez, Bobby Moreno /
Carlos Moreno and Seth Numrich / Sam Singleton.
Copyright 2012 David Hall - www.gaycelluloid.com.
archive reference #480
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