TLA Releasing 2011
When the words ‘inspired by Romeo and Juliet’ are written on the promotional material for a gay film you might experience an instant feeling of dread. But Alan Brown’s Private Romeo is no trite love story about star-crossed gay teens. Instead, the eight young cadets left behind at a military academy become the players whose studying of the play spills out into the corridors and classrooms of the college. Using the original text, with most of the major scenes left intact, it is no surprise that this screening was sponsored by the London Shakespeare society.
For Brown, Romeo and Juliet is not so much about feuding families but about sexual identity and desire pitted against society and its institutions. It is through Romeo and Juliet that his cadets can explore falling in love, homophobia and ever changing friendships.
Romeo is Cadet Sam Singleton, played with a bouncy romantic charm by Seth Numrich; Juliet is Cadet Glenn Mangan, whose innocent devotion is well-delivered by Matt Doyle. Chris Bresky and Adam Barrie do a fabulous job as the couple’s co-conspirators, the Nurse and the Friar – Bresky is particularly impressive. In fact the whole cast, most of whom bring with them much stage experience, deliver believable performances even when they have to play many roles. And this is a perfectly accomplished interpretation.
There are some fantastic moments – the balcony scene is surprisingly effective in an empty classroom, and the morning after the couple spend their first night together as husband and wife is heartbreakingly romantic. The use of YouYube-style lip-synced songs that intersperse the action are remarkably well observed and effective.
The film does struggle to get across the deeper layers that the Brown had in mind. With the cadets’ real lives and the text of the play so intertwined it becomes a little confused. However, this remains an unexpectedly compelling film, the kind that requires a second or third viewing to take everything.
Private Romeo will be released on DVD on 30 April 2012.